The amount of household glass being recycled throughout Europe rose to a new high of 67% in 2009, with around 25 billion glass bottles and jars collected, according to the latest data from FEVE (the EU Container Glass Federation)*. Confirming the steady upward trend over recent years, this increase reflects consumers’ growing environmental awareness, and the continuing efforts on the part of the European Commission and European governments to improve glass recycling collection schemes.
The new data reveals that 11 countries are now recycling over 75% of their glass, with Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands at the top of the table, each achieving an outstanding rate of over 90%. The UK recycling rate was 61.74% with much of this diverted away from the glass container industry to less beneficial uses.
Leading glass packaging manufacturer and FEVE member O-I is the world’s largest buyer of recycled glass – using nearly five million tons a year globally to make new packages. "The fact that European recycling rates have increased yet again is good news for the glass packaging industry. By increasing the proportion of cullet (recycled glass) we use, we are able to reduce energy use and offer an even more sustainable product," says Jose Lorente, President O-I Europe.
As it takes less energy to melt cullet than raw materials, for every 10% of cullet used, CO2 emissions are reduced by about 5% and energy use by 3% – in addition to the saved energy that would otherwise be used to quarry and process virgin raw materials. Using a simple process, a glass bottle can be recycled to create a new glass container of exactly the same quality within 30 days, making glass the only material to offer true "cradle-to-cradle" recycling. This contrasts with some other packaging materials, which are effectively "down-cycled" rather than recycled.
In 2010, O-I conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) for glass**, following the complete life of a package – from the extraction of raw materials to the reuse or recycling of the container. Using publicly-available data on the production of aluminium and PET, the assessment clearly demonstrated that glass has the most favourable carbon footprint.
While glass is an inherently environmentally-friendly material, O-I is focused on making it even more sustainable in the future, and recently established ambitious sustainability goals to achieve by the year 2017, including increasing the proportion of recycled glass the company uses globally to 60%. "We are able to use up to 90% cullet in the manufacture of new glass – depending on the colour of glass being made – but our success in achieving our objective depends on the availability of good quality, colour-sorted cullet across Europe," says Tim Neal, environment, energy and risk manager, O-I Europe.
O-I’s aim of increasing its cullet use supports the European Commission’s objective of making the European Union a "circular economy" where recycling is the key factor to waste reduction and where waste is considered as a valuable resource. To this end, EU Directives have been passed requiring that governments increase their recycling rates in order to help reduce demand for primary raw materials, re-use valuable materials and reduce energy consumption.