Reloop and Zero Waste Europe have released recommendations calling for revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation to drive an industrial transition into glass reusables – while The European Container Glass Federation (FEVE) pushes for the further development of collection, sorting, and recycling systems for single-use glass.

Published last month, the ‘Reinventing Glass’ policy recommendations state that single-use glass has the highest overall environmental footprint of all single-use materials. Conversely, they claim that reusable glass produces 85% fewer carbon emissions than single-use solutions, 75% fewer carbon emissions than PET, and 57% fewer carbon emissions than aluminium cans.

As it stands, the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) is feared by the companies to lead to an increase in single-use glass and create further environmental impacts. It is not thought to put measures in place to improve glass recycling, instead exempting it from mandatory treatments applied to metal and plastic beverage packaging.

For example, Article 7 applies minimum recycled content targets to plastic, but not to glass. Article 44 (1) does not name single-use glass as a compatible form of packaging for deposit return schemes (DRS) – a sentiment carried over in Article 44 (3), which exempts DRS for glass, even without achieving a minimum 90% separate collection for recycling rate.

Therefore, the recommendations encourage revisions to the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation that prevent material substitution by facilitating a ‘gradual shift’ from single-use glass into reusable alternatives.

Reloop and Zero Waste Europe call for material-specific waste prevention sub-targets that acknowledge and accommodate the high environmental impact of glass. These should focus on preventing the production of glass and encouraging reuse, with future investments hoped to benefit glass reuse systems.

Targets for these systems should be specific to – and mindful of the packaging impacts of – individual sectors, the companies continue. They acknowledge that many are already covered by the PPWR, but highlight the HORECA, retail, and alcohol sectors amongst those for which reuse systems could be further explored.

Alongside equal treatment for glass in DRS applications, the recommendations call for the implementation of new design standards for glass. By weight, at least 65% of the content of the packaging placed on the market on the territory of that Member State in the period from 2030 to 2039 should be made of recycled material; and at least 85% should be recycled from 2040, ‘established through a methodology of calculation and verification in accordance with the implementing acts referred to in paragraph 7 of Article 7’.

The European Container Glass Federation expresses its agreement with several of these suggestions, and underlines the importance (and prominence) of reuse in the glass packaging industry. However, it argues that reuse is not always the optimal solution, and refutes Reloop and Zero Waste Europe’s claim that the current draft of the PPWR gives glass a ‘free pass’.

Glass manufacturing in Europe already operates under a circular packaging model, it argues, with the container glass industry reportedly committed to revolutionising glass production for circularity and climate neutrality by 2050 in line with EU Climate Law. FEVE criticises the Eunomia study from which Zero Waste Europe claims that single-use glass is incompatible with the climate agenda – claiming that it is “predicated on assuming decarbonisation is a choice for the industry, rather than it being mandatory for all industries to maintain the right to operate in the EU” and “based on partial, unchecked, and inaccurate assumptions”.

FEVE continues to assert that the recommendations do not factor in the importance of closed-loop recycling, the preservation of food quality, and the migration of substances from food-contact materials. It points to a quote from a recent Zero Waste Europe report that “in order for food packaging to be truly sustainable, it needs to be safe for both human and environmental health.”

FEVE is supportive of the PPWR proposal’s pursuit of circularity for all packaging, with its own suggestions including material-specific packaging prevention targets; a 90% recycling rate that emphasises high-quality and closed-loop recycling for glass packaging; complete recyclability for all packaging placed on the EU market by 2030; and the establishment of reusable packaging as a complementary solution to one-way packaging.

However, it agrees with Reloop and Zero Waste Europe that material substitution should be avoided, and that the enforcement of material-specific prevention targets would ensure that the pursuit of sustainability is distributed fairly between all packaging materials. The PPWR Impact Assessment suggests that the proposed overall reduction targets are not material-neutral, FEVE claims, and could result in a major increase in plastics and decrease in other packaging materials, glass included. The assessment apparently suggests that a 4% reduction in the generation of packaging waste in 2030 compared to the 2018 baseline could lead to a 17.41% increase in plastic packaging waste.

Apparently, the average European glass container already contains 52% recycled content, and demand for recycled glass is currently high. FEVE suggests that, while recycled content targets can stimulate demand for materials that are not effectively recycled, glass is infinitely recyclable and only limited by availability. In the case of recycled glass, demand is thought to exceed supply in many cases.

As such, FEVE is pushing for high-quality glass recycling. One study from FEVE’s Close the Glass Loop claims that 91% of recycled glass waste is in a closed-loop packaging manufacturing process, while another records the latest average EU collection for recycling rate as 80.1%. The company now calls for the PPWR to mandate a 90% collection for recycling target for glass by 2030, with separate collection and sorting listed as a requirement to meet proposed recyclability criteria and ensure that recycling processes are high-quality.

It argues that DRS is not the most suitable solution for achieving this recycling rate, instead putting glass collection and recycling at risk. Zero Waste Europe and Reloop’s claim that DRS would encourage reuse is unsubstantiated, FEVE argues, with reusable beverage packaging sales decreasing across Europe in general, irrespective of whether a country operates a DRS or not.

Instead, Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) and municipal waste management systems for one-way packaging are highlighted as a beneficial solution for stimulating the recycling value chain. ‘Design for recycling’ criteria and A – E recyclability performance grades are uplifted as important bases for the eco-modulation of EPR fees, and it is stated that harmonised criteria should be established to define packaging as recyclable and create effective collection, sorting, and recycling processes, both in practice and at scale.

Even so, to achieve a fully circular economy for packaging, FEVE believes that the PPWR must aim higher. It argues that, while 22% of refillable beverage containers placed on the market in the beer, soft drinks, and water segments are made of glass, this solution is not always the most efficient in terms of transport distances or use and consumption patterns. As such, reusables should only be implemented when it is definitively an economically viable and sustainable solution.

Glass is already 70% less energy-intensive and emits 50% less CO2 than fifty years ago, says FEVE – a development attributed to industrial experimentation, testing, and innovation. Continual investment in glass manufacture is expected to fund further progress. It believes that industry-wide collaboration and the introduction “clear, stable political and legislative framework” will help the glass industry reduce its carbon emissions and transition into renewable energy at competitive costs. Such changes are expected to meet day-to-day consumption demands while also reducing the usage of fossil-based materials.

Ardagh’s glass division is currently in the construction process for two low-emission glass furnaces – its ‘Efficient Furnace’, expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and its NextGen hybrid furnace, aiming to cut CO2 emissions by 60%.

A partnership between Encirc and Diageo also seeks to build a new furnace to reduce carbon emissions by 90% - offsetting the rest with carbon capture technology – and manufacture the world’s first net zero glass bottles at scale by 2030.

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