Originally published as part of the July 2020 Recovered resources market bulletin
Glass is an infinitely recyclable material with over a hundred years of manufacture, reuse and recycling in Australia. Despite expectations of its reduced use as a packaging format, it remains the dominant material for wine, beer and many food lines.
The collection and processing of glass has encountered challenges in recent years. The nature of commingled kerbside collections and MRF sorting has seen a large percentage of glass reduced to fragment size beyond which it can be sorted for use in bottle manufacture. This has seen a steady increase in the stockpiling of collected glass. The collapse of the SKM recycling operation, and its glass processing plant, resulted in a huge challenge for managing the stockpiled material that represented a serious safety issue.
In recent years glass has also been used as a road construction material by Alex Fraser, Repurpose It and others. The use of glass in roads has helped to dramatically lower the amount of stockpiled glass in Victoria.
All collected glass needs to be processed to sort colour and remove contaminant material. This is called beneficiation. Until the closure of the GRS site, there were three beneficiation plants in Melbourne. The loss of this site has severely restricted the flow of glass back into new bottle production. As a result, the current recycled content of Victorian produced bottles is just under 30%. An overview of Victorian glass flows (excluding changes in stockpiles) is outlined in the following figure.
The remaining two beneficiation plants are operated by MRF operators, Visy Recycling and Polytrade. Both are processing glass that they sort at their MRF’s. Polytrade have confirmed that they have increased the volume of glass going through their Dandenong beneficiation plant and plan to take more. They need to mix MRF sourced glass with some cleaner material to operate at these levels.
This leads to the other key development, separate collection of glass from households. This is now occurring at four councils and will increase dramatically in 2021, firstly with the City of Yarra later this year. This will reduce MRF based losses and deliver a higher quality glass for bottle production.
The challenge remains to increase the beneficiation capacity so that with more glass recovered by the community, we see this result in increased recycled content in our bottles and jars. The recent announcement by the Federal Government to join state governments in providing funding support for new recycling infrastructure offers hope for this much needed expansion.
In the coming years, the introduction of container deposits will see higher levels of glass recovery and a fully circular system is required to ensure this is returned to new beer, wine and food packaging at rates double the current situation. Brandowners, packaging manufacturers and consumers must drive this.