Spend Matters welcomes this guest article by Rajiv Joarder from Mintec.
It’s clear that glass is one of the planet’s most useful inventions. Its use in buildings brings us light and healthy living environments, its use in vehicles brings us protection from the elements with the addition of safety and its use in packaging brings us easy transportation of some of our favorite food and drinks. It acts as an excellent barrier to moisture and has almost zero reactivity with food or chemicals.
Glass food and beverage containers especially do not lose any purity or quality in the recycling process. The environmental advantages of using recycled glass are significant, but is the economic advantage being eroded?
Well, not necessarily. Virgin glass is made using readily available materials such as silica sand, soda ash and limestone, but 95% of these feedstocks can be substituted by using cullet (crushed recovered glass). Using cullet rather than the feedstocks prolongs factory equipment and saves energy. Recycled glass production causes less carbon emissions and a 50% cut in water pollution.
Cullet is relatively expensive to produce due to the costs involved in the collection and sorting of used glass. Recycled glass can only be made from cullet of the same color, and that’s why we see separate colored bottle bins at the recycling center. Also, the collections require a lot of investment into logistical infrastructure. You could argue this sorting and collecting creates a different economic advantage – more jobs in the community. It is estimated that with every extra 1000 tonnes of glass that is recycled, almost 8 new jobs are created to collect and color-sort the used glass. However, the production of glass using cullet reduces energy costs by almost 30% – an obvious immediate advantage – but also reduces annual maintenance costs thanks to less stress on equipment. All in all recycled glass is cheaper to produce than virgin glass.
Demand for recycled glass has been growing steadily over the past few years as manufacturers are keen to capitalize on the cost advantage and switch to glass packaging made from cullet. Consequently, the price of cullet has been rising steadily and is now nearly 40% higher than at the beginning of 2012. So far in 2015, the price of cullet has risen over 5% already. In addition, over the past few years in the US there has been a huge investment in the curb-side collection infrastructure and recycling points at retail outlets. In 2012, around 34% of all alcohol and soft drinks bottles in the US were recycled. It was found that states with container deposit legislation recycled around 63% of all bottle glass compared to only 24% for non-deposit states.
Currently, there are around 65 used-glass-to-cullet processors located in 35 states and a typical processor would process 20 tonnes of color-sorted glass per hour. But, even with this capacity, the price of cullet is likely to continue on an upward trend unless more people recycle their glass containers and increase the supply of used glass.