New Roadmap reveals how to achieve closed loop glass recycling by 2030
A new Roadmap on glass recycling has been published by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and British Glass, the trade body that represents the UK glass industry. The Roadmap outlines steps the UK should take to meet its target of collecting 90 per cent of glass packaging for recycling by 2030.
Key recommendations include collecting glass waste separately from other waste streams and reducing the frequency and capacity of residual waste collection.
The report, titled A Roadmap to Closed Loop Glass Recycling, aims to help the UK achieve circularity in the glass waste stream. It emphasises the need to increase the quality and quantity of glass collected for recycling, so that it can be re-melted into new containers.
Drawing on the latest available glass data, the Roadmap provides a detailed analysis of current glass recycling practices in the UK, including recycling rates, export metrics, PRN revenues, local authority household glass collection performance, and scope and dates of relevant legislation. It also highlights the benefits of shifting to a circular economy and lays out recommendations to increase glass recycling recapture rates.
Dr Nick Kirk, Technical Director at British Glass, commented: "Achieving at least a 90 per cent glass recycling capture rate is imperative in fostering a sustainable future for the glass industry. This roadmap provides a strategic framework to guide stakeholders in the glass supply chain towards this ambitious but achievable target if the report’s findings are implemented.”
Suggested interventions to increase glass recycling
A key takeaway of the Roadmap report is the proven success of separate glass collection, rather than co-mingling approaches, the ‘primary culprit’ hindering closed loop recycling in the UK. It is recommended that local authorities provide two-stream recycling collection as a minimum, to reduce contamination and improve the quality of glass collected.
The report explains: “When recycling is offered at kerbside with separate streams, the clear demarcation between receptacles for different materials provides a clearer indication of correct recycling behaviours”. This is beneficial to the quality of not just glass, but other recyclable materials too.
Demonstrating the benefits of separate collection, Wales has achieved one of the highest recycling rates in Europe - with 92 per cent of glass disposed at home being placed in recycling boxes - by introducing efficient kerbside separated sort systems.
The report also recommends reducing the frequency and capacity of residual waste collection in order to incentivise recycling. This was based on an analysis of strategies used by local authorities that collect the most glass waste per household, which found that recycling rates usually increase when the frequency of residual collections moves to fortnightly or less.
Additionally, national and local communications campaigns which improve citizen understanding of recycling schemes would improve glass disposal behaviours, the report claims. Consistent, common and simple messaging should explain how to dispose of items which are frequently recycled incorrectly and how to use planned Deposit Return Schemes (DRSs).
WRAP’s most recent recycling tracker found that the glass items most frequently ‘missed’ for recycling are perfume and aftershave bottles, with 53 per cent of UK citizens incorrectly disposing of these in residual waste bins.
The full Roadmap report is available on wrap.org.uk.
The state of glass recycling in the UK
According to the Roadmap report, the UK's glass recycling rate currently stands at 76 per cent. While circularity is improving, significant untapped potential remains, with approximately 600,000 tonnes of glass lost to residual waste annually. Based on 2019 data, collection rates need to improve by 19 per cent to hit the 90 per cent target in 2030.
Local authorities in the UK are responsible for collecting and disposing of glass waste. However, services vary greatly between areas. Some authorities collect glass in a separate stream, some collect glass co-mingled with other materials, and others do not collect glass at kerbside at all. Inconsistent collection streams can lead to confusion and disparate quality of collected glass.
Incoming legislation - such as Extended Producer Responsibility regulations, DRS policies, standardised material collections (e.g. Simpler Recycling), and new digital waste tracking measures - aims to improve resource efficiency across the UK.
Glass can be recycled indefinitely, with no quality loss. Therefore, increasing the proportion of glass packaging that is recycled avoids using virgin materials, saving energy, reducing emissions and lowering costs. According to the Roadmap report, across the whole life cycle, the CO2 equivalent savings from recycling one tonne of glass back into bottles and jars are as great as 580 kg.
Most glass packaging is consumed in the home rather than in businesses, so the majority needs to be collected for recycling from UK households.