5 Lessons to Learn About Recycling Glass from Other Countries

For Recycle Glass Month, I decided to find what we Americans could learn from the best practices in glass recycling from our friendly neighbors overseas. While we’re making  strides, we can learn a lesson or two through these 5 examples:

  1. In Denmark 98% of glass bottles are refillable and 98% of those are returned by consumers. Set a community, city, state or national goal and then boast the good numbers.
  2. Glass collection points, known as Bottle Banks are very common near shopping centres, at civic amenity sites and in local neighborhoods in the United Kingdom. They opened the first one 34 years ago in 1977 and now more than 50,000 Bottle Banks are around the country. Make glass recycling convenient by putting in collection points in more places instead of only relying on curbside programs alone.

    Recycling Bins in the United Kingdom
  3. In Switzerland, bottle banks at every supermarket, with separate slots for clear, green and brown glass. But the Swiss take it further, there is a strong financial incentive. Recycling is free, but in most parts of Switzerland throwing away trash costs money – each trash bag has to have a sticker on it, and each sticker costs at
    least 1 euro (60 pence). So the less you throw out, the less you pay and hence the incentive to recycle. You’ll like this: No sticker? Then the trash will be left outside your house to rot. And how well does it work? Take a look at plastic PET bottles which are the most common drinks containers in Switzerland, and 80% of them are recycled – far higher than the European average of 20 to 40%. Include financial incentives that reward people for recycling and reducing waste going into our landfills. Or financial disincentives for those that trash materials that could be easily recycled.
  4. Germans, already known for their organization and dedication to the  environment, boast that around 90% of Germans are willing to sort out their rubbish and do so. Germany offers color-coded recycle bins for paper, glass, plastic, metals, bio (food waste), packaging and then a black box for materials that cannot be recycled. Good design matters. Use colors and/or shapes to help consumers more easily sort their recycled materials. If people are willing to sort their trash, make it easy for them to do so.
  5. Spain targets companies that use glass in their products. Spanish law demands that food and drink companies must pay for the cost of recycling the glass that their products are sold in. This gives a thriving market for private companies to specialize in glass collection, sorting and re-processing. While there are lots of ways to boost consumers to be more environmentally-responsible. Consider financial incentives for companies to source, reclaim and recycle the content they use in packaging their products.

What else you think we could do to boost glass recycling in the U.S.?

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Plastic Fails to Fill Recycling Promise

This past week, The Wall Street Journal, reported on a PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic recycling plant in Spartanburg, S.C. built to meet the demands for recycling plastics. What started out as a promise to push PET products like beverage bottles from landfills (and our oceans) and back into reusable materials, has fallen miserably short. Centered on Coca-Cola’s promise to recycle 100% of its bottles and cans by 2020, the article focused on the challenges of  getting plastic out of our trash and into recycling facilities like the one here in S.C.  Unlike glass, which can be endlessly recycled and not lose its quality, plastic recycling requires type-based separation or it can be deemed defective and defect cannot be reused for product packaging.  It’s not just the mixing of plastics that’s the issue – simply put – not enough of our plastics are making it out of the trash and into the recycling bin.

A few points that stood out:

  • As a nation, we recycle a smaller percentage of bottles today than we did in 1995.
  • Coca-Cola’s bottles contain less PET recycled content today than they did 5 years ago – 5% versus 10%.
  • PepsiCo’s bottles contain only 10% recycled PET.
  • The U.S. recycling rate for plastic bottles made from PET, typically derived from petroleum, was 28% in 2009.

You can read the whole WSJ article here, or watch the video with reporter Mike Esterel.

What’s clear is that while we wait for incentive-based programs like bottle-deposits,
or we wait for better access to convenient recycling, or while we wait for engineers to find ways to better recycle plastics, our landfills and oceans are filling up with the nearly 75% of plastic that ends up in the trash.

What can we do? Here are 3 things you can do to help put plastics where they belong:

  1. Limit the plastic you consume. Choose and use a reusable glass bottle whenever possible. Use glass food storage containers and limit purchasing ‘convenience sized’ products which are usually plastic-wrapped and highly wasteful.
  2. Recycle. If you have to use plastic, we hope you’ll recycle it at your curbside, or in public recycling centers.
  3. Reward.  If you live in one of the 10 states with a bottle-deposit reward program, take advantage and get that coin back in your pocket. If you’re in one of the 40 states without such a program, write your state elected officials and get
    rewarded for recycling.  (States with bottle-deposit reward programs have on average 2x the plastic recycling rate of states without such a program.)


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Video: How Glass Is Recycled

Did you know glass is endlessly recyclable? How does that glass bottle you just recycled turn into a new glass products?  Check out this great video from PBS sharing just how companies turn our recycled glass into reusable materials.

Fun fact: did you know the energy from recycling one glass bottle could power a television for one whole hour? One more reason to recycle!

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