Dave Dalton: Forcing glass into a deposit return scheme risks reversing recycling

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Dave Dalton is the Chief Executive Officer of British Glass. This is a British Glass sponsored post.

Against the backdrop of COP26, the government is moving forward with its ambitious environmental agenda. Reducing waste, achieving net zero carbon emissions and embracing the principles of a circular economy are all crucial pillars in the government’s ambition to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.

Undeniably a key part of this mission is supercharging our waste collection system: from introducing a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system, to ensuring consistent household waste collection and implementing a new UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme (DRS). we have a chance to reimagine and rebuild UK recycling again.

However, with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to overhaul the system, getting the details right is critical. Particularly with regards to the materials scope of the upcoming DRS, there is a risk of inadvertently stepping back on UK resource efficiency, glass should be included in the scheme.

I strongly believe that a DRS is not the right solution for glass in the UK. The evidence tells us.

First, the inclusion of glass in a DRS would actually increase the amount of single-use plastics in circulation. When the programs were introduced in Germany, there was a 60% increase in plastic consumption. In Croatia, since a DRS was introduced, plastics have become the market leader for beverage bottles. Meanwhile in Finland, when PET plastic bottles were introduced in the DRS in 2008, the amount of single-use PET increased from around 50 million units in 2007 to 375 million units in 2017.

A key factor behind this is the initial cost to consumers, for example, having to choose between a deposit of 20 cents for a three-liter plastic bottle versus paying £ 1.20 for six 500ml glass bottles. at a time when family budgets are tight.

Second, including glass in a DRS risks increasing, not decreasing, emissions. Producing new glass from recycled glass by remelting reduces CO₂ emissions and energy consumption, saving 580 kg of emissions for every ton of remelted glass. However, there are currently no plans to include a reflow lens for glass collected through a DRS. This means that more glass is likely to be “recycled” as an aggregate, which would undeniably damage the principles of the circular economy and increase industry emissions.

In the meantime, there is also the risk that the vending machines used in a DRS can over-compact the glass to the point that it cannot be re-melted into new bottles and jars, requiring the use of more virgin material.

In addition, it will lead to an increase in associated vehicle emissions: glass food packaging will still need to be collected on the pavement, while new vehicles will be required to collect glass bottles in a DRS that also requires people to return the bottles to the stores, increasing consumer journeys.

Third, it splits glass packaging recycling into two waste streams, to the detriment of both. Glass jars, condiment bottles and other glass packaging will however remain part of future collections, accounting for approximately 30% of all glass packaging. But by splitting the total volume of glass captured across two systems, it is less profitable for municipalities to continue collecting glass food packaging, threatening the overall glass recycling rate.

In fact, we have already seen this in Scotland where, after the Scottish government decided to move forward with plans for a DRS that includes glass despite industry warnings, we have already seen Dumfries and Galloway Council claim it will no longer collect glass. as part of domestic collections.

but there is another way. We already have a system at hand that can significantly increase glass recycling. The extended producer responsibility proposals will build on the success of current bottle bank and household recycling schemes, working in tandem with the proposals to ensure consistency of recycling collections between local authorities and to improve communications.

We have already seen the success of this approach in other parts of the world; a DRS for plastics joins the EPR for glass in both Norway and Sweden, and each has recycling rates of 89.4 percent and 92.8 percent, respectively.

We want to see more glass bottles recycled, which is why we have set our ambition for a 90% rate of glass collected for recycling by 2030 and to reach Net Zero for our industry by 2050. But to achieve this lens, the glass must be recycled properly.

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