Glass is a completely recyclable material and can be recycled boundlessly not losing its purity and quality. It is difficult to comprehend a world without glass as a material. The usage of glass expanses around all sectors and recycling has already come a long way over the past decade. However, we still need to answer the question whether the potential of the recycled glass has been realized entirely or not. Our research study seeks to find answers and the latest industry movements off late.
Glass waste has been one of the key environmental issues across the globe. The waste is usually disposed in landfills and incinerators leading towards global warming and climate change. Additionally, the pileup of waste further spikes the emission of pollutants in the environment. Glass recycling plays a crucial role in waste management and the current rates have to be increased to restrict further environmental damage.
Benefits attached with glass recycling include reduced emissions, lesser raw material consumption, extended plant life and higher energy savings. Glass manufacturing companies require recycled products as part of raw material to suffice new glass container market demand.
Recycled glass is mostly part of the recipe for glass and also helps reducing energy consumption in furnaces. As part of a bigger picture, energy conservation is directly linked with cost reduction and also meeting environmental benchmarks.
Globally over 130 million tons of glass is produced annually in the current years. Glass bottle & containers lead the charts in term of market share accounting for over 45%. Flat glass products such as construction and automotive glass also capture considerable share in the overall market number.
Glass Recycling volumes have grown at a CAGR of over 7% in the recent past driven by awareness programs, regulatory mandates and initiatives adopted by industry stakeholders and independent bodies. The recycling glass volume recorded in 2020 was approximately 28 million tons, representing roughly 22% of the overall glass volume produced globally. The current rate is just not enough to firstly curb environmental impact and secondly to help market reach its potential.
The problem with dealing with glass recycling is that the major waste collection has to be done from the consumer end. Municipalities in an advanced economy like the US still resort to residential recycling mainly through single-stream curbside collection. This means that the residents mix glass with other waste materials such as metal cans (aluminum & steel) along with plastic, newspaper, cardboard and other paper products. It makes the sorting process a humongous task for the recyclers and additional efforts to obtain the material that will finally be pushed towards the manufacturers. As a result, only one third of the 10 million tons of glass waste generated yearly by the US is recycled.
Other collection sources such as deposit program and drop off/buyback centers are expected to gain traction in the coming years. Easy access and larger audience along with plans to incentivize such programs will benefit the growth. It will also help in spreading awareness among masses and is a viable channel to reach communities in large numbers.
The regional landscape for glass recycling is very different in terms of current recycling rates, adoption scenario, governmental strategies and general awareness. European region is led by countries such as Switzerland and Germany with almost 90% glass recycling rate and have been proactive in terms of their approach towards developing technical know-how and aligned infrastructure.
Asian countries lack behind massively in terms of overall waste management with problems looming around lack of awareness, insufficient infrastructure and low financial value for recycled raw materials. China’s recycling rate is still considered to be well below 20% due to preference towards natural raw materials.
Industrial glass recycling has come a long way since 1960s. At present, optical glass sorting processes are deployed to sort our heat-resistant glass ceramics or glasses containing lead oxide.
With advanced glass separation solutions like X-ray fluorescence and LED camera systems, major recycling units are able to attain above 75% recycling rate in the current scenario. Despite continuous efforts, a considerable amount of usable cullet is lost under CSP reject stream which comprises of over 80% glass.
Hence, Companies like Redwave have continuously worked on enhancing glass sorting sensors and aligned software to improve detection rates for dark glass with the two-way and three-way Redwave CX series. In 2018, France witnessed the country’s first solar panel recycling plant established by PV Cycle France. The plant has the capacity to process over 1300 tons of solar glass, which matches roughly the total end-of-life quantity for solar panels in France. The plan is to gradually work on increasing the capacity to 4000 tons by 2022.
Such steps towards scaling and continuously improving the existing capabilities will play a huge part in attaining a circular glass economy. Knowledge sharing and taking the innovative technologies and processes to upcoming geographies will open up new doors and surely help in growth of recycling rates. Countries such as India and China have immense potential and will benefit from updated and advanced processing know-how.
Recycled glass have been traditionally used in making glass containers & bottles, highway beads, fiber glass and abrasives. However, in the recent past novel application areas such as hydroponic rooting medium, filtration medium and flux or binder have emerged. Although, they account for relatively lesser market share at present, it gives a view into the possibilities for future. If the overall price can be reduced by optimizing the cost at collection, sorting and processing, the market growth will witness significant increase.
Some of the other innovative applications proposed by companies like Phoenix Compactors include composite glass worktops, recycled glass tiles, green beads, recycled glass splash backs, and glassphalt. Construction applications that are also under development such as using finely crushed glass to replace sand and gravel will make difference in the future.
The best way to promote glass recycling is to communicate benefits, educate on waste collection/sorting, and develop necessary infrastructure to make it easy and convenient. Some of the major steps that can be taken up the entire ecosystem to up the existing recycling rates are,
The true nature of the market lies in the statement released from Glass Recycling Coalition (GRC) – “Glass is endlessly recyclable”. If this can be a practice which is actually implemented across the major glass waste generating economies, the true potential of the market will be realized. Industry participants, governments and associations are trying to enhance the process at every stage i.e. from the collection part to connecting end-user base with processing facilities. These efforts should pick up further pace and not rest until recycling goals/plans are attained.