Tim Gent* explains how the industry should work together to bring the circular economy together.
The glass industry continually strives toward increased recycling rates having committed to a 90% collection rate by 2030.
FEVE’s ‘Close the Glass Loop’ programme aims to bring the glass collection and recycling value chain together with the end goal to increase the quantity and quality of glass collected and ultimately drive more consistent bottle-to-bottle recycling.
Glass is a highly sustainable packaging material being infinitely recyclable with no loss of quality and the use of recycled glass in the manufacture of new glass bottles makes it the perfect circular economy material, however despite advances in glass recycling in the UK, sector uncertainty and proposed changes to the system threaten to undermine progress so far.
The glass industry consistently meets recycling targets but recent proposals including the potential introduction of an entirely new approach through Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) make it a confusing time for the sector.
Under DRS, consumers pay a deposit when they purchase a drink which they get back when the empty bottle or can is returned to a designated drop off point.
Despite the current system of bottle banks and kerbside collections being highly effective in driving UK glass recycling rates, Scotland has already committed to the introduction of an all in DRS which includes glass from 1st July 2022 and the debate continues for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Both British Glass and FEVE along with the whole glass industry supply chain have voiced their concerns around the proposed change noting that the current collection method is a proven and effective system.
Wales, which boasts the second highest recycling rate in Europe and the third in the world already collects 87% of glass for recycling without a DRS.
This is the result of strong collaboration between local authorities, manufacturers, education facilities and consumers which has driven a culture of recycling within the country.
The Welsh success story is evidence of what can be achieved when all parties work together for a common end goal.
What is even more worrying for the glass industry is the failure to set remelt targets as part of the DRS proposals.
Under the PRN system, remelt targets for 2021/22 were increased by 5% from 67% to 72%. The glass industry welcomed the increase and has committed to achieving 80% for remelt by 2030, closing the loop by recycling more glass back into new bottles and jars.
Without this target being enforced through a new system, more glass will ultimately end up crushed into aggregate. In addition, the Institute of Economic Affairs has labelled the system a “loss-making inconvenience for consumers and retailers alike” with its recent research estimating the cost of introduction to be around £1 billion and a further £814 million every year thereafter .
This is a huge sum which surely could be better spent elsewhere. With rising fears over the cost of implementing DRS and the evidence showing the scheme could actually reduce glass recycling rates, it seems the proposal makes neither economic nor environmental sense.
Furthermore, following Defra’s “Collection and Packaging Reforms” consultation which closed in June, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) will be introduced and should address many of the serious waste issues the UK is facing.
Under EPR, packaging producers will bear the full net cost of managing packaging waste and incentivised to make more sustainable decisions at the product design stage including making packaging either reusable or easily recyclable.
EPR is an established system used in many countries with positive results when combined with bottle bank and kerbside collections of glass. According to the consultation, the aim of introducing a DRS would be to reduce littering, boost recycling levels and collect high quality materials in greater quantities but evidence shows this can be achieved through a combination of EPR and bottle bank and kerbside collections of glass.
Indeed, research from countries where the DRS included glass, shows the system was counter-productive and consumer use of plastic packaging increased rather than decreased!  These are very real concerns and issues that must be addressed.
If new measures such as DRS are to be introduced, it is important they are done so in a considered and constructive way with the affected industries playing a central role.
It is increasingly clear that the packaging we use and how we dispose of it is having a devastating impact on our planet so action is needed with reform of waste strategy a must.
The introduction of new policies to address the issue must take into account the knowledge and expertise of the sectors involved with all voices heard. The most important part of this is to ensure whatever decisions are made are in the best interests of the environment.
The glass sector is fully committed to supporting the circular economy through collaboration with government to achieve the most positive of outcomes.