Closing the glass loop with FEVE

In July 2018, the European Commission's Circular Economy Action Plan came into force with an ambitious new target of boosting glass recycling rates to 75% by 2030. So how will it be achieved? Luke Christou speaks to Adeline Farrelly, Secretary General of FEVE, to find out more about their Close the Glass Loop initiative.

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Approximately 76% of glass packaging is already currently recycled in the EU, with over 25 billion glass containers making up an increasingly circular economy. However, recycling rates vary drastically from member state to member state. In countries such as Portugal, Greece, and Lithuania, recycling rates are below 50%, compared to more than 90% in places such as Belgium, Switzerland, and Sweden.

The European Container Glass Federation (FEVE), believes that improving collection rates is key to achieving a 75% recycling rate throughout Europe. In response to the EU target, it has launched its own initiative, Close the Glass Loop, with the intention of boosting glass collection rates to 90% over the next decade.

We spoke to Adeline Farrelly, Secretary General of FEVE, to find out more about the Close the Glass Loop initiative, its ambitious target, and what it will take to achieve it.

Luke Christou:

What drove FEVE to launch the Close the Glass Loop initiative?

Adeline Farrelly:

“The main reason is that recycled glass is the most important resource for bottle-to-bottle production. Recycling has always been part of the core values of the glass industry. In the 1970s, the industry set up the first collection points for empty glass bottles and jars, which led to a steady increase in glass recycling rates. But there is still a gap in collection, which reduces the amount of glass available for recycling.

“By using recycled glass we reduce energy consumption, use of virgin raw materials, reduce CO2 emissions, and we reduce waste, production and waste management costs.

“To sum up, glass recycling is at the centre of our business model, which has been acknowledged as an authentic circular economy. But there is still 24% of glass packaging that is lost to recycling.

“As an infinitely recyclable material, glass has a unique responsibility to lead the circular economy for packaging, so it is natural for the industry to launch a renewed and ambitious circular economy action plan for glass packaging. This initiative is a concrete answer on the marketplace to brands and consumers which are looking for truly sustainable packaging options that offer guarantees on recyclability, but above all on real recycling.”

Glass collection rates are already at 76%, making it Europe’s most recycled food and beverage packaging material. Why is it important that collection rates increase further if the EU target is to be achieved?

“European legislation on packaging & packaging waste requires that EU Member States achieve 70% glass recycling by 2025 and 75% by 2030. These targets are mandatory, and will measure what has effectively been recycled versus the amount of glass placed on the market. This means that we need to increase the overall volume of collected material, while providing a collection infrastructure that incentivises consumers to separate their glass bottles and jars from other materials. To meet the targets, we will need additional volumes and an excellent separate collection system, backed up by high quality sorting & treatment.”

Achieving the 90% glass collection target will require cooperation from glass producers, food and beverage brands, consumers, glass treaters and others. Could you tell me about the material stewardship programme and how this will encourage each part of the value chain to do its part? 

“The closed loop starts with collection, which involves consumers who are responsible for disposing of their empty packaging, as well as municipalities and Extended Producer Responsibility schemes who are responsible for providing the adequate infrastructure. Brands, by taking an active role in the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, shape and support many collection systems across Europe. The challenge for Close The Glass Loop is to make sure these systems are effective for glass packaging, and remain convenient and cost-efficient. Finally, the glass treaters and manufacturers are responsible for optimising the yield from every ton of collected glass, and increasing the recycled content of glass production in Europe.

“Each part of the chain faces its own challenges, and these challenges can be very different from country to country. Close The Glass Loop will facilitate the exchange of best practice and knowledge, to speed up changes and improvements.”

Since the initiative was set in motion in November, how much engagement has there been from these different parts of the value chain? Can you tell me about the companies/organisations that have joined the initiative so far?

“It’s still early to comment on a formal engagement, as the official launch of the platform will be in June 2020. But we can confirm that FERVER (the European Federation of Glass Recyclers), EXPRA (the Extended Producer Responsibility Alliance), as well as individual EPR schemes in Germany (DSD) and France (CITEO), are already fully committed to the objectives of the Close The Glass Loop.

“We are now establishing contacts with European-level food & beverage associations to gain their support, and launching a study on glass collection for municipalities in partnership with ACR+ and Eurocities. These strong links with municipalities will be key to the programme. In parallel, the glass industry is also mobilising partners on a national level, with multi-stakeholder initiatives such as the French Charter on 100% Verre Solutions.”

Collection rates vary drastically across Europe, from above 90% in Sweden to less than 60% in places such as Greece. What is the reason for this gulf and how do you plan to encourage improvement in countries with below average collection rates? 

“Performance varies drastically from country to country, but so does waste management infrastructure, policy, demography, socio-economic conditions, and so on.

“To reflect the diversity of local contexts, Close The Glass Loop will be built on National Action Plans to ensure that each country has a tailormade, fit-for-purpose strategy addressing the collection gap.

“But recycling rates do not tell the full story. Volumes are also important, and our analysis shows that 80% of the glass that is not collected for recycling can be found in 7 countries: France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy and UK. This means that even in countries that achieve higher rates than the mandatory targets, there is still a lot of work to do.”

Have any particular issues been identified that might stop the Close the Glass Loop initiative from achieving its goals? How does FEVE plan to overcome these issues?

“We are still in the analytical phase and will be putting forward a European Action Plan by June. But the two biggest challenges that we see are: collecting glass in a densely populated urban environment, and collecting glass from the HoReCa channel (Hotels, Cafés and Restaurants). In big cities, the competition for space is intense, making a convenient waste disposal infrastructure more challenging. In the case of HoReCa, the challenge is to develop infrastructure that takes into account the constraints of staff at the end of a long shift. We hope that Close The Glass Loop will launch pilot projects on these issues to identify best practices that can be implemented locally.”

The Close the Glass Loop initiative hopes to define, design, and implement its action plans this year. What can expect from these action plans and when?

“For the first year, the Action Plans will need to provide a strong analytical basis, so that the Close The Glass Loop stakeholders can make the right policy decisions in years to come. We have a 10-year window to reach our ambitious goals. We expect to develop annual action plans and performance reports, to assess and benchmark our progress.”

Are you confident that the targets of a 90% glass collection rate and 75% net recycling rate can be reached by 2030?

“Glass is a material with unique properties. It is simply not conceivable that glass could end up in landfill or incineration, when it can be infinitely recycled into new bottles and jars. We are absolutely committed to reaching these targets and we look forward to working with the whole value chain to make it happen.

“Such an ambition can only be realised in partnership and that is the whole spirit of the circular economy is precisely that: joined-up efforts to optimise efficiency and waste reduction at every step of the chain.”

Images by FEVE/Friends of Glass

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