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New Zealand’s Glass Recycling Crisis

New Zealand’s Glass Recycling Crisis

The Zero Waste New Zealand Trust is pleased to hear that glass manufacturer, Owens-Illinois of Ohio, is to proceed with its $78 million plant expansion at Penrose, Auckland. The plant will produce additional glass bottles to replace imported containers, and in the process will significantly increase the amount of glass recycled within New Zealand.

In the past few years, use of glass containers has grown strongly in New Zealand, but the supply of additional new bottles has been from overseas. At the same time, New Zealanders have recycled 65% of their glass, and the supply of glass cullett has outstripped the demand at the current OI plant. Consequently there has been a huge growth and proliferation of ‘glass mountains’ across the country, especially in the South Island, where some Councils have resorted to landfilling their glass.

Jo Knight of Zero Waste says that several other recycling options for glass have been proceeding well, and she hopes that some of these survive to provide a range of market options available in the future for glass recyclers.
The issue has been of particular concern to Sheryl Stivens, General Manager of Wastebusters Trust at Ashburton. Standing atop the mountain of glass at their depot, Sheryl says: “We’ve been moving heaven and earth to try and find some useful purpose for all this glass, and while we’ve had some success in finding markets for the real top quality clear glass, this new plant should make all the difference to our ability to keep going.”

Sheryl was also pleased to report that WasteBusters have just this week coordinated the delivery of the last of the glass milk bottles from the Christchurch milk treatment site to be the first shipment of clear glass to Potters Australia, where the glass will be recycled into glass road marking beads.
Jo Knight says that recycling is a relatively new industry in New Zealand, but has the potential for huge growth and employment opportunities if we really take the issues of sustainable resource use seriously. Waste and recycling industries in other countries employ significant proportions of the population; new materials and growth industries are emerging. In Germany recycling already employs more people than communications. In the US it has overtaken the auto industry in direct jobs.

This improved market for glass which the expanded plant will provide, will also provide a challenge to Councils and their collection systems. The collection of mixed recyclables (including glass) in wheelie bins, produces a significant percentage of broken and mixed colour glass which is much more difficult to recycle and has a lower value. The availability of colour-sorted and high quality glass may lessen if too many Councils change to this mode of collection and this may have an impact in the future.

To support their contention of overall benefit to a community of an integrated, industry-supported recycling scheme rather than simple landfilling, a major UK organisation has recently published a report confirming this proposition. Wrap’s (Waste and Resources Action Programme) international research project “ Environmental Benefits of Recycling” includes an assessment of the relative greenhouse gas savings associated with current UK recycling.
They state;
“… The results are clear and positive. The UK’s current recycling of those materials (paper/cardboard, glass, plastics, aluminium and steel) saves between 10-15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents per year compared to applying the current mix of landfill and incineration with energy recovery from the same materials. This is equivalent to about 10% of the annual CO2 emissions from the transport sector, and equates to taking 3.5 million cars off the roads. ”

Zero Waste is a key economic strategy. Recovery of waste for reuse reduces demand on the Earth’s finite raw materials resources to replace products thrown away. With glass manufacture, reuse of glass cullet lowers the energy needed for new glass production by 25-30%, and glass is a product which can be recycled almost indefinitely.

The Zero Waste Trust is pinning its hopes on the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill, currently before a Parliamentary Select Committee, to get things moving again here in New Zealand. This new glass recycling capacity will also help push us in the right direction.


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