UK lagging Europe in glass recycling

The UK is lagging behind other major European countries in the recycling of glass bottles, a new report warns.

The analysis was published today by Zero Waste Europe in conjunction with Eunomia Research & Consulting. Britain’s closed loop recycling rates for glass stand at just 43 percent, compared to 61 percent in France and 77 percent in Germany.

The report comes after government proposals to exclude glass bottles from England and Northern Ireland’s deposit return scheme sparked outrage amongst environmental campaigners.

The recycled content rate in single-use container glass is currently only at 38 percent in the UK.

Some 55 percent of glass in the UK is collected via co-mingled collection which results in less cullet returning into glass manufacturing than in countries which mainly use a separate collection system. The UK Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has proposed a recycling rate target for 2030 of 83 percent and a remelt target of 80 percent, increasing collection rates.

Key barriers presented in the “How Circular is Glass? A report on the circularity of single-use glass packaging” study include ineffective collection methods, design, and logistical shortcomings, leading to material and energy losses.

The report is based on four case studies (France, Germany, United Kingdom, and the United States), and uses 2019 data to calculate collection rate, overall recycling rate, closed-loop recycling rate, and recycled content as its four key performance indicators.

The biggest losses of glass material occur at the collection stage – a huge resource and environmental loss, the report says.

It adds that deposit return systems with single-use glass in their scope can improve the overall glass collection rates for this material.

Existing deposit return system currently achieve up to 98 percent collection rates for glass beverage bottles.

“Including effective closed-loop recycling via deposit return schemes which include single-use glass will not only improve the circularity of single-use glass, but also by scaling up more refillable glass packaging systems across Europe and by increasing the market shares of refillable glass packaging via strong reuse targets will help to tackle the current energy crisis,” said
Larissa Copello, consumption and production campaigner at Zero Waste Europe.

“We cannot ignore the truth about the single-use of glass anymore: its massive energy consumption during primary production puts single-use glass at the top of materials with the greatest environmental impacts. Yet, these are not justified, since this material is perfectly suited for reuse and recycling.”