Why glass bottles are in

Glass is one of the three main materials used to make single-use drinks containers. With an assumed 90% capture rate we will be able to recycle 294 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 at least 330 million containers and 117,000 tonnes of material that reaches the Scottish market each year. This is 20% of all containers due to be included in the scheme, and 77% of material by weight.

Glass is the third most common item, after plastic and cigarette stubs, that pollutes 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 CO2 emissions of 50,000 tonnes each year – that’s 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 62,000 tonnes of glass containers. Given glass makes up one fifth of all containers in the scheme, including it will play an important part in normalising behaviour and increasing capture rates. Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme aims for a return rate of 90% of glass being recycled within three years of operation.

Including glass is good for business

Adopting best practice methods for collecting glass will increase the supply of high-quality feedstock by 1.5 million tonnes over 25 years.

Currently, between 20%-50% 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.

Adopting better collection methods as part of Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme will make closed loop recycling much more viable, leading to significant energy savings for the industry.

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

In 2017, only 56% of households had kerbside glass collection. Being able to return glass bottles to shops that sell them will make recycling them a part of everyday Scottish life.

Our analysis suggests that even if recycling of non-drinks glass fell to zero after the introduction of the scheme (which is highly unlikely), 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 has to 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

We will support 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 has installed reverse vending machines that accept glass in two of its stores and Edinburgh Zoo is trying it in their Jungle Café.

We recognise there are additional logistical considerations particular to the inclusion of glass and we're working with stakeholders to help minimise challenges.

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 330 million glass containers will be in scope for the new scheme shows that glass forms a major part of recycling behaviour here 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.

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