Glass recycling, a growing success (with some dark spots)

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Assovetro report: waste sorting is increasing thanks to traditional collection containers, but a lot of material is still dispersed.

Glass recycling rates in Italy are increasing: over the past 5 years the rate increased by 2%, reaching 70.3% in 2015, with waste sorting rates as high as 77%, mainly thanks to the efficiency of the traditional street container system. Yet much more needs to be done, especially against that 7% of glass which, although collected, is not included in circular economy circuits. This, in short, is the message of the report “Glass recycling and the new European targets for the circular economy”, realized by the Foundation for Sustainable Development on behalf of Assovetro, the National Association of glass industrialists, which is a member of Confindustria.

The recycling of glass scrap reused in the furnaces of Italian glass industries (including imports and cullet unsuitable for packaging) in 2015 allowed to save about 3,020,000 tons of traditional raw materials, energy for about 316 million m3 of methane and emissions for about 1.9 million tons of CO2. However, considering the new recycling targets set by the recent EU package on circular economy (75% in 2025 and 85% in 2030), greater efforts will be required to improve the quality and quantity of waste collection.

The problem is that over 512,800 tons of glass still end up in unsorted waste, while other losses emerge in cullet selection and treatment facilities, where as many as 150,000 tons of waste, 90% of which is glass, end up in landfills with discarded materials due to the poor quality of the collection.

The positive data concerning recycling actually conceals an uneven situation: in Italy in 2014 the recycling rate of packaging was 26.6 kg/inhabitant, but considering macro regions, the North collected on average 34.9 kg/inhabitant, the Centre 24.6 kg/inhabitant and the South only 16.6 Kg/inhabitant. The recycling rate of the North was about 73%, against 54.9% in the South. To achieve the targets set by the circular economy package, recycling per capita should reach 28.4 kg in 2025 and 32.2 kg in 2030, which will require a much greater effort for the South. In 2025 the recycling rate for the South will have to increase by 20%, against 2% in the North.

According to Assovetro, in order to improve the cycle, it is essential to focus on the correct information of citizens, to prevent crystal and ceramics from being thrown away with glass, and to minimize fine fraction particles, those tiny bits of glass mixed with ceramics and crystal that cannot be separated. It is also necessary for municipalities to have collection goals that depend not only on the quantities collected, but also on the recyclability of the material collected. Qualifying points will be the increase of research activities and the improvement of facilities to minimize recycling waste. Among the facility improvement plans currently underway there are sophisticated optical switches that remove ceramics fragments. For what concerns research, the Experimental Glass Station is conducting a research project for the recovery of such waste. To improve quality, it is also necessary to assess the efficiency of waste sorting methods: the traditional bell-shaped street container ranks first for efficiency, 96% of the glass collected with this method is, in fact, recycled. The last place goes to the street container for the mixed collection of glass, metal and plastic, where only 65% of glass is recycled, with a gap of as much as 35%.

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