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Glass Works: New Study Identifies Optimized Model for Recycling Beverage Containers

Recycling and recovery is of critical importance to the glass container industry.

An ongoing issue for glass manufacturers is the growing demand for high-quality recovered glass and insufficient supply. This is often the result of the way in which glass and other recycled materials are collected from consumers. Recycling systems where all the materials are collected together (i.e., single-stream collecting) can result in lower-quality recovered glass, which can be unsuitable for glass container manufacturers.

In response, a study was released early this year that evaluates what types of collection programs might be best for increasing both the amount and the quality of overall recycling, and container recycling specifically. Results show that a stronger network of recycling depots and curbside collection programs would yield increased rates of recycling and higher-quality recovery for beverage containers.

The study, commissioned in part by the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), was designed to provide decision makers with information on the total costs for various beverage container redemption approaches. Resource Recycling Systems (RSS), a consulting firm in the solid waste and recycling fields, conducted the research.


Complementary Systems

A common concern is that beverage container redemption systems are not complementary to curbside collection. Researchers specifically examined a variety of scenarios for a redemption system, or “optimized bottle bill,” that would be cost effective and work collaboratively with other collection methods, including curbside recycling.

RRS gathered and evaluated data from various existing curbside and redemption programs to develop recommendations on what’s best for improving glass and other container recycling. They considered:

•  A network of convenient container recycling depots, in addition to retail locations, where consumers can redeem their containers

•  A provision to compensate curbside collection programs and/or material recovery facilities to keep them cost neutral

•  Retention of the unclaimed deposits and the material values within the system to create a sustainable funding mechanism


More Recovery of All Recyclables

The big takeaway from the study is that an “optimized bottle bill” system would result in increased recovery of all recyclables, especially beverage containers. Such systems are estimated to increase overall statewide recovery by at least 11% over a comprehensive single-stream collection system; they would increase recovery of bottle bill materials by 162%.

What about costs? An “optimized bottle bill” system can be comparable in cost to single-stream collection if material revenues are kept by the operator, and in some cases even if unredeemed deposits are not kept in the system. Researchers also found that redemption centers ease the pressure on retailers. These types of depots reduce the material returned to retail by an estimated 50-80%, depending upon population density.

An “optimized bottle bill” system can also have viable funding mechanisms. If unredeemed deposits are reinvested into the recycling infrastructure, then redemption systems may increase recovery while also creating a sustainable funding source for all recycling.


What Do These Findings Mean?

Recycling and recovery is of critical importance to the glass container industry, but despite recycling efforts today, thousands of tons of glass are lost to U.S. landfills each year. The use of cullet, or furnace-ready recycled container glass, in glass manufacturing plants reduces energy use, cuts costs, and lowers greenhouse gas emissions—all vital for the environment and good business.

This new research offers a roadmap for an optimized recycling system that would yield significant material recovery and lessen landfill waste. GPI and its member companies look forward to engaging legislatures and other stakeholders in discussions on these study findings and moving forward. Please join with us. 

 Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media. 

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