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Back refillable glass packaging, say campaigners

Ineffective collection methods, design, and logistical shortcomings are hindering the circularity of single-use glass such as drinks bottles, according to a new report.

Research by the UK-based consultancy Eunomia and commissioned by Zero Waste Europe (ZWE) considered case studies in France, Germany, the UK and the US. Data from 2019 was used to calculate collection rate, overall recycling rate, closed-loop recycling rate, and recycled content as its four key performance indicators.

The resulting report, ‘How Circular is Glass’ found that:

  • The biggest losses of glass material occur at the collection stage – a huge resource and environmental loss. Up to 30% of lost glass material was reported in the French study. 
  • Deposit Return Systems (DRS) with single-use glass in their scope can improve the overall glass collection rates for this material if implemented across Europe, with existing DRS systems currently achieving up to 98% collection rates for glass beverage bottles.
  • Collection methods affect the potential for recycling: countries which mainly use a separate collection stream for glass have higher rates of cullet used in the production of new container glass.
  • Net glass packaging exporters (e.g. Germany, France) have considerable differences between their closed-loop recycling rates and their recycled content rates, because exported glass packaging escapes the local collection system and it is uneconomic to ship cullet for long distances. 

ZWE has urged the European Commission to make use of the findings in its upcoming revision of the Packaging and Waste Directive. The campaigning group says the EC should scale up more refillable glass packaging systems across Europe and help to tackle the current energy crisis.

‘This can be done, for instance, by including effective closed-loop recycling via deposit return schemes (DRS) which include single-use glass; and by increasing the market shares of refillable glass packaging via strong reuse target,’ says Larissa Copello, consumption and production campaigner at ZWE.

‘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.’

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