Why glass bottles are in

Glass is one of the three main materials used to make single-use drinks containers. Capturing 90% of the glass bottles in the scope of the scheme would enable Scotland to recycle 504 million glass bottles each year. 

Recycling glass bottles reduces litter

Glass litter poses unique challenges in our public spaces, from city streets, to the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. Presenter, Hayley Matthews, speaks to cycle charity Spokes and Loch Lomond national park who give us their views.

How big is the problem?

Glass drinks bottles that are included in Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme represent an estimated 560 million containers that reach the Scottish market each year. This is more than a quarter of all the containers due to be included in the scheme.  

Glass is one of the most common items to pollute our beaches. It’s also one of the litter items that causes most concern – particularly among parents and pet owners – because of its potential to cause injury. 

Broken glass poses a real hazard to local authority, private sector and voluntary clean-up crews and can contribute disproportionately to other litter-related damage, such as punctures. 

Benefits of glass bottle recycling

Recycling glass bottles lowers the risk of injury to people and wildlife as well as reducing our environmental impact.  

Including glass in Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme means we will all benefit from a reduction in CO2eq emissions of more than 50,000 tonnes each year – or nearly 1.3 million tonnes over 25 years. It will help reduce the amount of littered glass – a hazard to both the public and wildlife.

Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will tackle this by recycling an additional 53,000 tonnes of glass containers. Given glass makes up more than a quarter of all containers in the scheme, including it will play an important part in normalising behaviour and increasing capture rates. 

Including glass is good for business

Currently, much of glass collected in Scotland is not suitable for closed loop recycling – where bottles are turned back into bottles. This is because of the way glass is currently collected and processed, including the mixing of colours and crushing during transportation. 

The separated collection methods required as part of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will make closed loop recycling much more viable.  This will result in significant energy savings and reduced carbon impact. 

Including glass within the same scheme as PET plastic and aluminium is also expected to minimise the risk of market distortion by material switching. 

Making glass recycling as easy as popping to the shops

Being able to return glass bottles to shops that sell them will make recycling them a part of everyday life in Scotland. 

Local authorities will still provide facilities for glass recycling. However, analysis suggests that even in the unlikely case that recycling of non-drinks glass fell after the introduction of the scheme, the increase in drinks bottles collected would still produce a net environmental benefit. This would outweigh any lost tonnages significantly.  

Offsetting transport costs

Any transport impact is far outweighed by the significant reduction in energy thanks to increased recycled content during manufacture. 

Glass collected in waste management systems – whether residual or recycling – already must be transported. While increases in the volume of glass will mean more transport space is required, the major quality benefits of being able to pursue more closed loop recycling outweigh this. 

Overall, logistics is a minor component of the carbon emissions associated with glass production. 

Learning from experience

Zero Waste Scotland supported trials with small retailers, to gain insight into the practicalities, including storage options. The findings of these case studies will help shape best practice for the scheme. 

Some businesses are already taking a lead by running their own pilots for accepting returns of glass bottles. Boots and Edinburgh Zoo are among those to have trialled the use of vending machines that accept glass.  

Zero Waste Scotland is working with stakeholders to help minimise any logistical challenges in relation to the inclusion of glass. 

We’re in good company

Many countries include glass in their deposit return schemes – including Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Germany. 

Different countries created their own deposit return schemes at different times, and in different circumstances. While it’s true that some successful European schemes do not include glass, cultural context of recycling must be considered. 

The fact that an estimated 560 million glass containers will be in scope demonstrates the enormous potential that the scheme has when it comes to boosting glass recycling in Scotland. ​ 

Considering the evidence and this range of substantial benefits, it is clear why glass will form an integral part of Scotland's Deposit Return Scheme​.