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GLASS WORKS: 50% Recycled Content by 2013

May 1, 2009
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In December 2008, member companies of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) agreed to the goal of using at least 50% recycled glass in the manufacture of new glass bottles and jars by 2013. This target recognizes a growing need to protect the environment and conserve energy. Energy costs drop about 2-3% for every 10% of cullet used in the glass manufacturing process. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) benefits calculator, the GPI estimates that the energy saved by using 50% recycled content in all glass packages manufactured in the U.S. could power over 45,000 households for a year.

In addition to energy benefits, the use of cullet saves raw materials ton for ton. And recycling glass containers provides for a reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. For every six tons of recycled container glass used, a ton of CO2, a greenhouse gas, is reduced. A relative 10% increase in cullet reduces particulates by 8%, nitrogen oxide by 4% and sulfur oxides by 10%.

The glass industry is also keenly aware that the use of cullet in glass container manufacturing is an integral part of what makes glass a true cradle-to-cradle package. Glass containers are endlessly recyclable and can be made with up to 100% recycled content with no loss in quality or purity to the end product.

Action Items

How will the industry achieve this goal? The glass container industry, as an end-user market for the majority of cullet that is collected, is prepared to pursue measures that efficiently and cost-effectively improve glass recovery.

To start, the GPI has long been committed and engaged in promoting recycling in the U.S. Its member companies were early proponents of drop-off collection centers and then of curbside recycling. The industry has also actively supported efforts to initiate best practices for single-stream curbside collection, allowing recovered glass to remain a viable commodity suitable for bottle-to-bottle recycling. And cullet processors continue to develop new technology that sorts recovered glass to improve cullet quality.

The latest EPA report shows that the national glass recycling rate jumped to 28.1% in 2007, up three percentage points from 2006 (25.3%). It is estimated that 3.2 million tons were recovered in 2007, compared to 2.9 million in 2006. To maintain this momentum in light of a dramatic slowdown in the sale of recyclable materials worldwide, the GPI issued a statement emphasizing the industry’s need for more recycled glass containers. Unlike some recycled commodities, cullet is typically recycled domestically, not imported or exported. We continue to encourage all Americans to recycle their glass bottles and jars.

Second, the GPI and its members actively support on-premise bar, restaurant and hotel recycling initiatives. The Beverage Packaging Environmental Council has reported that 18% of beverages are consumed on premises, at a bar or restaurant, by weight. Glass makes up to about 80% of that packaging mix, especially in beer, wine and distilled spirits sales. This potentially large source of high-quality recycled glass is an important target. With the encouragement of new laws, nearby glass markets, and local activism, bar and restaurant recycling initiatives are taking shape in states like North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado, and California.

Next, glass container manufacturers will accelerate support of legislative and regulatory measures that have the potential to improve glass recycling systems. This includes engaging with policymakers to improve and build on state beverage deposit programs. The GPI and its members will continue to encourage and help to shape laws that promote the recycling of glass containers in bars, restaurants and other away-from-home locations. The GPI has a long history of working at the federal level to promote recycling, improve its economics and support recycling businesses.

Finally, the GPI completed its first successful “Recycle Glass Day” in December of last year and launched a new consumer-focused website that is a complete resource for consumers to learn about the superior health and environmental benefits of glass containers. At the site, individuals can locate a local recycling center and use the GPI’s Carbon Calculator to find out how much carbon they save by recycling their glass bottles. The goal of the website is to make more “friends of glass”-people who make a conscious decision to choose glass for healthiness, recycle glass for the environment, and spread the word about the benefits of buying products packaged in glass.

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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