European Commission proposes 75% glass recycling target by 2030

By Kasia Patel
Published: Monday, 21 December 2015

To target waste production, increase recycling and preserve natural resources, the EC has published a number of legislative proposals which will affect industrial mineral-consuming industries such as glass and plastics. Kasia Patel, North American Editor, reports.

The European Commission (EC) published a package in December for an EU Circular Economy, which includes recycling targets for glass packaging of 75% by 2030 as well as addressing plastic waste reduction.

To ensure that the value of products and materials is maintained, while reducing waste and preserving resources, the commission has put together revised legislative proposals on waste and a comprehensive action plan, setting out a concrete mandate for the EC’s present term of office.

"Glass holds a special place in the EU Circular Economy," European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) said in a statement welcoming the initiative.

"It is a permanent material that is 100% and endlessly recycled without any degradation of its intrinsic properties, as long as it is separately collected and treated," FEVE outlined, adding that the latest statistics show that 73% of all post-consumer glass packaging in the EU is collected for recycling.

However, a spokesperson for the organisation told IM that the proposed recycling targets would be challenging, particularly in some Eastern European countries where recycling is still very low.

"In Hungary recycling is only at 32% and in Romania recycling is only at 47%," the spokesperson said. "Other countries such as Latvia and Poland also need to do more in terms of putting the relevant infrastructure in place, organising collections and making sure that good quality glass is collected."

According to FEVE statistics for 2013, the countries with the highest rates of recycling container glass are Denmark at 98%; Sweden at 97%; Switzerland at 96%; and Belgium and Luxembourg with a rate of 95%.

The spokesperson added that while Bulgaria, Portugal and the UK are borderline with around 60% of container glass recycled, they still have a long way to go to hit the commission’s proposed 75% target.

For FEVE, the objective is to recycle more glass and meet environmental performance targets. This in turn will reduce energy costs for the industry as recycling glass uses lower rates of energy than using virgin raw materials.

Glass manufacturing consumes a number of industrial minerals including soda ash, quartz, feldspar and lime. A typical batch for clear glass containers may consist of 155kg soda ash, 172kg limestone, 145kg feldspar and 5kg sodium sulphate. Flat glass batches require about 115kg of soda ash per 450kg of silica sand used.

FEVE figures indicate that for every tonne of recycled glass, 1.2m tonnes of virgin raw materials are saved in the melting process. While recycling can substantially reduce costs for container glass manufacturers, raw material consumption is likely to decline as a result.

However, the FEVE spokesperson told IM: "Recycled glass replaces virgin raw materials, but we will always need virgin raw materials at competitive prices that are sustainably produced. Just because we will try to meet these [recycling] targets does not mean we won’t need these raw materials."

With almost 30% of glass not yet recycled in the EU, more will need to be done to see a substantial increase in recycling.

The manufacturing industry will need to work in conjunction with national and local authorities, waste processors, EPR schemes and consumers.

"We are ready to take on this challenge and our share of responsibility in the supply chain. We are working with recyclers, collectors and also addressing consumers to make them aware of the benefits of glass recycling," the FEVE spokesperson told IM. "We will also need to increase efforts in these countries [where recycling is low] and make sure that effective infrastructure is in place. We also need to encourage authorities to do more."

Circular Economy package

The EC’s action plan on the Circular Economy aims to tackle the entire lifecycle of various products through the management of production, consumption, waste and secondary raw material markets.

The plan will also target market barriers in sectors such as plastics, food waste, critical raw materials, construction and demolition, biomass and bio-based products.  

According to the EC, waste prevention and re-use could create net savings of €600bn ($635.4bn*) in the EU, while reducing greenhouse gasses by 2-4% annually.

At the production stage, the commission plans to provide guidance on waste management and resource efficiency in industry sectors; issue guidance and promote best practices on mining waste to improve raw materials recovery; and clarify rules on byproducts in its revised proposals on waste to create a level playing field across the EU.

"In addition to the regulatory action already taken by the commission – on illegal logging, extraction of minerals from conflict zones or corporate transparency on payments made to governments by extractive and logging industries – we will continue to promote sustainably sourcing in policy dialogues and partnerships with non-EU countries and through EU trade and development policy," the EC outlined in its package.

With around 600m tonnes of materials lost in waste each year, the EC has set a common EU target for recycling 65% of municipal waste in addition to its common EU target for recycling 75% of packaging waste by 2030.

The commission is also targeting the plastic industry, which is a large consumer of industrial minerals such as talc, titanium dioxide (TiO2), halloysite, kaolin, calcium carbonate, wollastonite and limestone.  

Currently, less than 25% of plastic waste is collected and recycled, according to the EC, while around 50% goes into landfill.

In order to facilitate changes in the plastics industry, the EC plans to address issues such as recyclability, biodegradability, the presence of hazardous substances and marine litter. It also plans to propose a more ambition target for plastic recycling in the revised legislative proposal on waste. 

*Conversion made December 2015