Data recently released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that over 41% of glass beer and soft drink bottles, nearly 25% of wine and liquor bottles, and 33.4% of all glass containers were recycled in 2010. To achieve even higher glass bottle recycling rates, the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) continues its efforts to encourage federal and state legislation that increases the quality and volume of recycled glass. The major positive side effect of this effort is that higher recycling rates create jobs.
Glass Recycling and Jobs
Using recycled glass materials to make new glass bottles improves energy efficiency, helps protect U.S. jobs, and generates revenue. This is supported by a wave of recent national and state studies.
An Ohio Department of Natural Resources recycling economic impact study found that the Ohio recycling industry generates $22.5 billion in direct sales, employs more than 100,000 people, and generates more than $65 million in state tax revenues. In North Carolina, a Department of Environment and Natural Resources report shows that more than 15,000 state residents are employed in the recycling industry.
In addition, the Senate unanimously approved SR 251, which reinforces the importance of recycling to the U.S. economy and the need to improve the collection, processing, and use of recyclable materials. Finally, a report conducted by the Tellus Institute shows that increasing the national recycling rate to 75% (currently at 34%) would lead to nearly 1.5 million jobs and reduce carbon emissions by 276 metric tons by 2030—the equivalent of eliminating emissions from 72 coal-fired power plants.
Legislation and Glass Recycling Impacts
To stimulate more glass recycling, state legislative initiatives will likely have the most impact in 2012. In South Carolina, for example, the House of Representatives will take up a bill passed in 2011 by the State Senate for a beverage container recycling program at restaurants with alcohol licenses. If the bill passes, the resulting recycling industry would bring jobs—and more recycled glass bottles. Similar legislation went into effect three years ago in North Carolina and has nearly doubled glass recycling collection (in addition to creating over a dozen new businesses). If the effort succeeds, more states will likely follow suit.
Proposals for expanded and new container deposit legislation are also on the 2012 docket. Vermont has already put forth legislation to expand their deposit to include wine and noncarbonated beverage (tea, juice, and water) containers. Following an investigative study, the Oklahoma State House of Representatives announced that a redemption system for beverage bottles returned for recycling could have a significant impact on litter, recycling and state jobs. Florida and Nevada are also examining the potential impact of a bottle deposit program.
The expansion of deposit programs is usually good news for glass recycling because it tends to bring in more clear glass, which is the most valuable and most difficult to collect through other recycling systems (such as curbside). Deposit systems also create jobs. A recent report issued by the Container Recycling Institute includes an Excel-based jobs model and finds that beverage container deposit systems provide 11-38 times more direct jobs than curbside recycling systems for beverage containers.
On the federal side, the GPI is working with other stakeholders to craft legislation that would improve recycling data to distinguish between closed-loop recycling (bottle to bottle) and diversion, ensuring more effective collection systems for recovering glass and other materials.
Lynn Bragg is president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI). Founded in 1919, the Washington, D.C., area-based GPI represents the North American glass container manufacturing industry. To find out more about the strong environmental position of glass containers, visit www.gpi.org and sign up to receive the institute’s monthly e-newsletter.
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.