Both glass and paper/board recycling benefit where packaging is source separated, and the Welsh and Scottish governments are actively pushing local authorities to take this approach. But, as is so often the case, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' approach in England is far less interventionist.
In the case of glass, brand owners and retailers are very keen to advertise the amount of recyclate they use in their packaging. According to Ardagh Glass, Marks & Spencer and brands including Stella Artois are among those announcing proportions of recycled content on-pack.
Recycled content figures
“A lot of our customers ask us for recycled content figures every year,” said Ardagh’s European head of marketing Sharon Crayton. “Most publish an annual sustainability report, but they also want to communicate this to their consumers.”
In order to increase volumes of green, amber and especially flint (clear) glass cullet, Ardagh has announced a 15-year partnership with collection and sorting specialist Reuse (formerly Berryman). As a part of this, £5M has been invested in improved technology, notably KRS K9 Flash optical sorting, which not only identifies different glass colours but also weeds out damaging impurities such as pyrex and ceramic.
In the past, much flint recyclate has been reabsorbed by the green glass stream, or unsorted cullet has been channelled into aggregate. But improved sorting is already having an impact at Ardagh’s Doncaster plant, which specialises in flint glass. A recycling rate of 32% in the first quarter of 2013 rose to 50% in the same quarter this year, said Ardagh. “One short-term aim would be to get all of our flint furnaces up to a 50% recycling rate, and then start setting higher targets,”Crayton explained
Many of the challenges for glass came from the shift away from pre-sorted bottle bank collections. Jamie Brown, head of production at Reuse, said: “Just 15 years ago, around 80% of container glass collection was through bottle banks. Today, that figure is at most 20%.”
Quality was undercut not only by waste contractors rushing to save money by using fully co-mingled kerbside collections, but also by the UK – unlike other EU countries – not setting a limit on the degree to which waste can be compacted.
“A key part of the contract is that Reuse will ensure it keeps up to date with the latest technology,” said Crayton. The KRS technology will identify fragments down to 4mm in size, but computer processing advances are expected to take that down to 1mm.
Longer-term, the hope is that more local authorities will see the benefits of source separation.