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December 2006

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 glass.

“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

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