Glass recycling legislation
The recycling rate for glass packaging used for
beverages and food products would get a huge boost with a national
bottle bill or additional state bottle bills.
Currently 11 states have enacted bottle bills,
laws that require small, refundable deposits on beverage bottles
and cans. Past attempts to pass a national bottle bill have failed,
with those proposing legislation unable to secure support at the
committee level in order to bring it to a vote in the House or Senate.
“Container deposit legislation is not a
partisan issue,” says Pat Franklin, executive director of
the Container Recycling Institute. “Historically, most of
the chief sponsors of bottle bills, in both houses of congress,
have been Republicans. A national bottle bill would fair better
with the incoming Congress than at any time in the past 12 years.
Of the 11 states that have bottle bills - Hawaii,
California, Michigan, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, New York,
Connecticut, Maine, Iowa and Vermont; Maine and Iowa’s legislation
covers liquor and wine bottles, while Vermont covers liquor and
mixed wine drinks.
Franklin is not counting on getting a bottle bill
getting to the floor of either house in the next two years.
“The beverage industry is one of the most
powerful and influential lobbies in congress and in state legislatures
across the country,” she says. “They’ve succeeded
in keeping bottle bills bottled up for decades.”
Across the nation, Franklin says that approximately
23-percent of glass bottles and jars are recycled and that the rate
is low in part because of breakage during the collection and compacting
of recyclables. Glass bottle manufacturers need high quality, color-sorted
“There are other uses for glass, but the
highest and best is to make new glass bottles and jars out of scrap
bottles,” she says.
Franklin says that West Virginia and Tennessee
are the best candidates in terms of the joining the bottle bill
club due to ongoing efforts over the past several years.
“They haven’t gotten through one of
the Houses, but there have been committee hearings in both states,”
she says. “There are also several states that are considering
expanding their laws to include non-carbonated beverages, which
would probably not have a big impact on glass, since the non-carbonated
market, is primarily plastic.”
Franklin noted that Connecticut and New York are
looking to expand their legislation to cover non-carbonated beverages,
but will not tackle wines and liquor at this point.
She notes that bottlers oppose bottle bills because
it involves them in the collection of containers, which is a cost
to their business.
Franklin says a key argument in favor a national
bottle bill standardization of the patchwork of laws and recovery
of materials that reduce energy usage and raw materials consumption.
“We could be recovering these valuable materials
in the 39 states that don’t have deposit laws at the same
rate as we are in 11 bottle bill states,” she says. “People
who live in the 11 bottle bill states recycle on average about 500
beverage containers per-capita. In the non-bottle bill states, it
is closer to 200 per-capita via curbside programs."
The Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), which represents
the manufacturers of container glass in North America, is keen to
increase the supply of recyclable glass and is working with every
state that has a recycling program to improve the annual supply.
Joe Cattaneo, president of the GPI, does not foresee
the passing of a national bottle bill.
“I don’t think it is very high on
the priority list of legislation that will come out of the environment
and public works committee,” he says. “It just doesn’t
have enough traction in enough states. I see individual states that
have current legislation would seek to add more categories to their
deposit programs for water – there are more water bottles
out there than anything else.”
Cattaneo believes it will be a hard sell to get
state governments to expand their legislation to include glass wine
and liquor bottles.
Glass collected at the curbside level is not sorted
according to color, often breaks and is contaminated, contaminates
other products and presents problems at the sorting level.
The GPI would prefer a system where glass is properly
sorted and the supply is maximized.
The raw materials to make glass are inexpensive
and abundant in the United States, whereas energy costs are a primary
cost for the industry.
“The cost savings does not come from the
outright purchase of recycled glass,” says Cattaneo, “it
is in the manufacturing process because of the lower melting temperature
that is required – you are using less energy when you add
cullet (crushed recycled glass) to the mix; it adds to the longevity
of a furnace because you are not melting at a higher temperature;
and it cuts down on air emissions, usually its nitrogen oxide, SO2
and CO2, because you are melting at a lower temperature.
“The savings is upfront because often you
are going to have to pay more for recycled cullet because of transportation
and cleaning issues – it has to be pure as raw materials when
you melt it into the batch. There is a public benefit and it is
really a benefit to the manufacturing process. We want recycled
content and it would be better if we could get it on a regular basis.”
The GPI has essentially remained neutral in the
debate for a national bottle bill “because for us, it is a
cost of doing business. We sell to the products manufacturers, so
it is usually a product manufacturing issue in regard to mandatory
deposits, because it is a cost to their business.”
Cattaneo notes that product manufacturers employ
glass containers as part of their packaging mix because consumers
see it as a higher quality product. They can be sold at a higher
price, which improve margins.
A solution according to Cattaneo could be uniform
bottle bill legislation, which has a deposit return system and ensures
a more reliable collection.
“If there is enough interest in doing that,
it should be entertained,” he says. “It’s nothing
we will necessarily push. In our business the margins are so tight
right now that we are really just investing in our business, factory
improvements, and being competitive