I don’t live in Oregon but I am very interested in glass recycling. What struck me about an article that recently appeared in the Salem, Oregon’s Statesman Journal newspaper, and the responses to it, is the belief that discarded glass products can only be recycled into new glass products if they are first separated by color. This attitude is not unique to Oregon. It is shared across the country and, in fact, the world.
Enter a new technology developed by Green Mountain Glass, LLC. GMG’s technology has been available for several years. It eliminates the need to color-separate glass before recycling. This technology allows glass manufacturers to use multiple-colors of broken glass to make a specific color bottle. For no good reason, glass manufacturers have resisted GMG’s technology, believing that they can only recycle glass that is the same color as the glass bottle they are producing; brown with brown, green with green, etc. In states like Oregon, where deposits are taken at the purchase of each bottle—the so-called “bottle bill states”—it has been easy for the waste management and recycling companies to accommodate the manufacturers’ requirements for single-color recyclable glass or cullet. But as more and more municipalities have gone over to collecting all their recyclables curbside and in one container – called “single-stream recycling”—color separation has become much more difficult as bottles and other glass products break during collection. As a result, about 50% of the glass collected today ends up in local landfills where municipalities (i.e., the taxpayers) pay a tipping fee to dispose of this waste. It the glass manufacturers were to adopt the GMG technology, they could increase their use of recycled glass and eliminate the cost of putting this waste glass into landfills.
The benefits to recycling glass are enormous. Use of recycled glass in bottle production reduces raw material costs, requires less energy to melt, and lowers carbon and noxious gas emissions at the glass plant. Recapturing and recycling the hundreds of thousands of tons of cullet that currently ends up in landfills is a win-win-win situation for the glass manufacturers, the recyclers and the taxpayers.
An article in the British environmental publication letsrecycle.com entitled “Infrastructure Needed to Meet Split Glass Targets” (http://www.letsrecycle.com/news/latest-news/glass/infrastructure-needed-to-meet-split-glass-targets) points out that the UK is proposing to raise its target for glass sent for re-melt, while lowering the percent of recycled glass used for aggregate (building and road making materials). The article explains that recyclers in the UK believe they will not be able to meet the re-melt targets because, as one industry representative stated, there is a “limited number of facilities in the UK capable of sorting glass [from the MRFs] according to color.” According to this recycler, there are only a “a couple” of UK companies with the ability to sort MRF glass. He concluded that it will be necessary to invest in the glass recycling infrastructure to reach the new government targets.
The goal of increasing cullet recovery from MRF glass for re-melt use is critical to waste reduction, but why not pursue it with the aim of achieving maximum recovery of cullet from the recycling stream with the highest level of efficiency and the lowest possible cost of capital investment? Green Mountain Glass, LLC (http://www.greenmountainglass.com), a company located in the US, has developed technology which eliminates the glass manufacturers’ perceived need to use only color-sorted cullet in order to make their products. Therefore, rather than spending their limited time and resources separating MRF glass into three different colors, recyclers need only clean the waste glass and deliver it to the glass makers. Color-sorting cullet in order to re-melt it would become a thing of the past.
The GMG technology was proven in full-scale plant tests conducted in the US several years ago. In those tests, Dr. Richard Lehman, GMG’s technical director and Chairman of the Ceramics Department at Rutgers University, showed how large quantities of multicolored, furnace-ready glass could be melted to produce a single colored amber beer bottle meeting the most rigorous glass manufacturing industry standards. For the past few years, GMG has refined and expanded its technology by developing the Batch Formulation System (BFS). The BFS combines the functions of an optical scanning device with a computer containing a set of algorithms which allow the glass furnace operator to “read” the cullet input to the glass batch as it makes its way to the furnace. It furthermore makes adjustments in the chemical make‑up of the batch—all in real time—such that the mixed‑color cullet renders a glass product to specification.
Rather than expanding the color-sorting capacity in their industry, the recyclers should devote their efforts to encouraging the glass manufacturers to adopt the GMG core technology and Batch Formulation System at their plants. The benefits of using more glass for re-melting in the UK has been acknowledged by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (defra) for years (see defra’s, Consultation on recovery and recycling targets for packaging waste for 2013-2017, at http://www.defra.gov.uk/consult/files/packaging-consult-doc.pdf). Use of recycled glass in bottle production reduces raw material costs, requires less energy to melt and, most importantly, lowers carbon and noxious gas emissions at the glass plant. By increasing the national targets for re-melt glass, defra has put emphasis in the right place. It is up to the glass manufacturers — the ones who benefit most from the use of clean, recycled glass — to help the recyclers and the UK achieve those goals in the future.
Another fact worth mentioning is that color separation in the UK produces primarily flint (clear) cullet for jars and liquor bottles, and amber (brown) bottles for beer and ale. Although color-separated green cullet is also produced in this process at additional cost, most of that cullet is exported to EU countries where it is used to make wine bottles because there is very little green bottle production in the UK. The GMG technology would allow the manufacturers to use all the green cullet currently in the UK waste stream to make amber bottles, thus increasing overall the amount of glass re-melted in the country.
As a final thought, the UK has adopted a system to encourage waste recycling called the Packaging Waste Recovery Note (PRN). These Notes are generated when waste is recycled or recovered and are paid for by the manufacturers of the recycled product. The revenue generated by these Notes is invested back into the recycling system to help increase collection and recycling capacity. In the case of glass, the UK should consider reducing the cost of the PRN to those glass manufacturers that recycle using the BFS, since the use of the system at the glass plant reduces recyclers’ costs by eliminating the need to color-sort the cullet. The technology will also increase the amount of glass recycled as green cullet, currently collected but exported to foreign countries, is used to make amber bottles in the UK.
Columbus GA is finding that recycling glass is not easy. A recent article in the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer reports that local business owners are frustrated by their inability to recycle their glass bottles. In fact, the paper reports, bars and restaurants in this Georgia town account for more than 30 tons of glass each year, all of which ends up in a nearby landfill. Columbus is not alone. In countless municipalities across the country, glass is considered the ugly duckling of recyclable wastes. Paper, plastic and metals are more highly valued as they are easily extracted from the waste stream and sold to manufacturers for reuse in their products. As the country has moved to single-stream recycling –where all recyclables are collected curbside at the same time — glass has become even more of a problem because it breaks and sticks to the more valuable materials. Some of the broken glass, or cullet, is recovered by the waste collectors and sold to recyclers, or benefitiators, who clean and resell the cullet to glass manufacturers. But it is estimated that the about 50% of the glass collected in the single-stream process ends up in landfills like the one in Columbus.
Green Mountain Glass may have the answer for Columbus and hundreds of municipalities across the US. GMG’s Batch Formulation System allows glass manufacturers to use mixed-color cullet to produce a single color (green and amber) glass product. By introducing this new element to glass production, the Batch Formulation System eliminates the costly color-sorting process that occurs before glass is recycled. More important, the BFS opens the door to recovery of the estimated 50% of mixed-color cullet that currently finds it way into local landfills.
For more than thirty years, bottlers, retailers, unions, recyclers, environmentalists and other interested parties have been squaring off over whether glass containers, once emptied, should be returned for reuse or tossed in the garbage. Nine states have enacted Bottle Bills — laws which require that deposits, ranging from 2 to 10 cents per container, be paid at time of purchase of glass beverage containers purchased in the state. The fight has now come to MA where environmentalists are moving to expand an existing Bottle Bill to include not just beer, wine and soda bottles, but water and juice containers as well. Polar Beverages, the nation’s largest independent soft drink bottler, is fighting back. The bottler contends that the deposit program will increase costs for bottling companies and consumers of soft drinks. The company says that the Bottle Bill program in the state is anachronistic, having been adopted at a time before curbside side pick up of recyclables became commonplace. Polar further points out that most of the bottles the company is currently required to take back at a cost of 2.25 cents per container end up being shipped to Michigan for recycling.
A driving force behind the adoption of Bottle Bills in this and other countries, is the glass manufacturers’ demand that only single-color glass be recycled in their glass plants. This industry-wide, misguided demand results in approximately 50% of recyclable glass being disposed of in landfills nationwide. Green Mountain Glass has developed a process called the Batch Formulation System which enables glass manufacturers to recycle the mountains of mixed-color cullet that exist today in the US.
The massive collection of glass is not just a problem in the US. Kiwi’s are having the same problem keeping their glass from landfills and reusing it to make new products. Folks in Central Otago, New Zealand have decided to do something about their mountains of used glass. New Zealand is moving away from reusing bottles and recycling more. Use of recycled glass has increased from 88, 560 tons (50% of total used) in 2004 to over 165, 000 tons (68% of total used) in 2010. Owens-Illinois International, New Zealand’s leading glass manufacturer and largest consumer of recycled glass, is only able to use 55% of the glass recovered for recycling in the country according to the New Zealand Glass Packaging Forum.
Vitro, Mexico’s largest glass company, collected over 181,000 tons of recyclable glass in 2010, an 19% increase over the previous year. By recycling the 181,000 tons, the company saved 363,000 cubic meters of land which otherwise would have been use for landfill. What is especially noteworthy of Vitro’s efforts is the way in which the company coordinates it’s collection efforts with the social communities in which it operates. For instance, in 2010 Vitro implemented 172 social campaigns for family and occupational health; benefiting more than 29,300 people in the cities where the company has a presence. Virto’s 2010 sustainability report can be found on the web.
Boise Idaho is facing a classic problem inherent in waste recycling today. Nobody, not even recyclers, want glass. It weighs much more than the other recyclables (paper, aluminum, plastic) so it costs a lot to dispose of in landfills. It sticks to everything, so, when it is commingled with other collected recyclables, it has to be removed at considerable expense. Boise’s solution is to have it’s residents separate their glass from the rest of the waste stream at curbside. Good idea, except they are charging residents $10/month for this service. The fact is, most Americans don’t even want to separate their recyclables, let alone pay for its disposal. They would rather get rewarded for their efforts to keep wastes from accumulating in landfills; thus the solution provided by RecycleBank in several cities in the US and abroad.
The glass manufacturers and recyclers in the UK are concerned about the economics of making glass from cullet compared with virgin materials. The problems are similar to those faced in other countries where single-stream recycling has created havoc with the supply of usable color-sorted cullet for glass container manufacturing. The UK glass sector representatives have told the publication letsrecycle.com that among the problems they face are 1) the acceptability of glass from MRFs, and 2) the cost of using color sorted material to make new glass.
Green Mountain Glass believes that its Batch Formulation System, which eliminates the need to color sort cullet before introducing it into the glass manufacturing process, may be a solution to the problem faced by glass producers in the UK and elsewhere.