Leave no bottle behind

Glass News ,

By Scott DeFife

President of the Glass Packaging Institute Scott DeFife provides an update on the GPI’s efforts to increase glass recycling and recycled content rates for domestic glass containers in America.

A year ago, the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) and its manufacturing member companies issued a Roadmap to boost glass recycling rates for North American-made glass to 50% and higher over the course of a decade. Much progress has been made since the release of this strategy, and while work remains, there are signs of progress that the tide is changing.

In that Roadmap, GPI examined existing glass recycling infrastructure with an eye towards increasing glass recycling and recycled content rates for domestic glass containers, which have averaged in the low 30th percentile for the past decade. Recycled glass cullet is a key input to produce new bottles and jars, and increasing its use has many environmental and sustainability benefits. 

In addition, consumer packaged goods companies are focused on more sustainable packaging options and asking all material groups to increase their recycled content levels. GPI manufacturing companies prioritised this issue and identified a set of solutions to address gaps in the domestic glass recovery system to lead to higher recovery rates and boost recycled content averages to 50% by the end of the next decade. The plan focuses on seven key levers for meeting industry goals, tailored to the needs of a particular region. 

Capturing more glass

Recycling and waste management policy, a key lever, was very active in 2021 and Q1 2022. Recycled content availability was impacted in 2021 due to Covid pandemic precautions. The strongest sources of quality recycled glass in the US come from beverage container deposit states, where many of the return and redemption options for consumers were shuttered in response to the pandemic.The market is still recovering from that setback, but the infrastructure is in place to allow those states to rebound. In fact, there was movement in several of the US container deposit states in 2021 to expand their redemption programmes, and Connecticut enacted expansion, which is one of the key drivers of fundamental change. Additionally, Oregon and Maine passed Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws designed to reform and expand their recycling and waste diversion systems. This legislation will further increase the volumes of glass available to recycling into new containers. As several additional states consider container deposit expansion and EPR on the West Coast, Mid-Atlantic and New England, these regions are poised to increase their already strong positions.

But the 10-year strategy did not rely on major policy changes alone, and in regions that are slower or reluctant to adopt container deposit system or EPR regulations, the strategy is to leverage incremental tons from the other levers. Leaving no bottle behind focuses on collection and diversion from landfill. In recent years, concerted efforts by some in the waste management industry to restrict glass recycling access and to move that material to the waste stream and landfill have complicated industry efforts to increase the use of recycled cullet.

Capturing more glass means increasing access, improving the quality of collection streams, expanding commercial (on-premises) recycling, and implementing new regulatory initiatives to keep glass out of landfills. 

Commercial collection

GPI and its members took steps to bring these suggestions to life in 2021, seeding pilot bar and restaurant glass collection programmes in the Chicago, Illinois area, as well as in Arizona. The Chicago area pilot programme generated a fair amount of enthusiasm and has been brought back this spring, with the goal of making it permanent and expanding the number of establishments served. This commercial account collection model is highly replicable for cities wishing to implement similar programmes, and there was increased interest in the model throughout the Great Lakes states. 

GPI also promoted other transformative collection systems, which captured best practices from communities that either maintained or reverted to dual-stream kerbside glass recycling, along with those
that expanded community collection programmes.

Expanding and improving secondary glass processing was another significant area of concentration, with new processing capacity coming online and initial investments in new facilities being made.

Glass cleaning

Another focus area is private sector and government grants for material recovery facility (MRF) glass cleaning equipment investments to improve existing streams that enhance the economics of kerbside single-stream glass and create additional yields. High level talks took place in several states with glass manufacturing facilities aimed at incentivising new glass cleaning facilities and looking to expand processing facilities.

GPI led educational and awareness building seminars on the basics of sorting and processing glass in the existing recycling system and worked on partnerships needed with state and local governments, supply chain partners, consumers and others. The association engaged with stakeholders in a dozen states to get those partnerships rolling in 2021.

Given the increased attention on circular economies and environmental sustainability and food and beverage brand goals to increase recyclability and recycled content, GPI worked closely on policy areas critical to maintaining glass’ high standing among consumer and policymakers. The association will continue its efforts to expand workplans to implement these initiatives, in co-ordination with allies in the North American glass supply chain.

If you have any questions about our projects or how your company can engage, please reach out to GPI, www.gpi.org.

* This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Glass Worldwide Magazine. *