Latest market developments and technological updates for a faster and a more profitable recycling process

Where are we with glass recycling? How come Europe is at the forefront? Does the DRS system help in recovering more glass? What are the challenges of recovering and recycling glass from municipal waste? How to recycle more glass with less costs? These are some of the questions we’ve tried to answer to in this brief article.

A quick overview of the recycled glass market

In the global push for sustainable materials, glass stands as a strong contender to overtake plastic in a bid for eco-friendliness. With its infinite recyclability and minimal environmental impact, glass emerges as a compelling alternative to the pervasive use of plastics. From reducing carbon emissions to curbing ocean pollution, the reasons to embrace glass are as clear as its transparent surface. Yet, we continue to produce plastics at unhealthy rates, despite its negative impact on the environment, its high recovering costs and the difficulty in creating systems to manage most of it.

Glass is enjoying a growing market’s attention and although the global glass recycling rate is still low (estimated to be at around 21%) and rates vary significantly by region, some parts of the world can already boast high glass recycling rates. For example, European countries tend to have higher glass recycling rates compared to many other parts of the world. In fact, according to the latest data released by Close the Glass Loop association, within the European Union the average collection of glass packaging for recycling was 80.1% in 2021.

Italy is again at the top of the recyclers in Europe, considering that in 2022 the country managed to recycle 80.8% of its glass, with a +4.2% increase from 2021 (source: CoReVe). In fact, Italy is once again above the EU glass recycling target set at 75% by 2030 and plans to reach an 86% recycling rate by 2025. The benefits in recycling glass were roughly estimated by the president of CoReVE:

Recycling saves 25% of energy and 25% of natural gas for glass production, with savings of at least 360 kg of C02 per ton of product. Moreover Italy has avoided the emission of 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere”.

On the other hand, the US recycling rate is at around 31%. According to the EPA, in 2018, the US generated 12.3 millions tons of glass, which accounted for 4.2% of all MSW generation. While 31% was recycled, 7.6 million tons of MSW glass ended up in landfills, accounting for 5.2% of all MSW landfilled that year. That is a lot.

And while glass enjoys some good recycling rates in some parts of the world, in the developing countries in South-East Asia glass ends up in landfills and is recovered by informal waste pickers or scavengers and sold to recycling centers.

How is glass collected? What are the best in class systems for higher collection, recovery and recycling rates?

It’s clear that where separate collection at source is in place, glass recycling rates are high. That’s the case in many regions in Italy, where people collect glass separately which makes things a lot easier for collectors and recyclers.

DRS (Deposit Return System) is another way to go when separation at source is not working. The system encourages recycling by offering a refundable deposit on glass bottles to consumers that pay a small deposit when purchasing beverages. The deposit is collected back when returning the empty bottles to reverse vending machines or collection points. The system has proved to be effective in many of the European countries, like Germany which has high recycling rates, but it can also be a viable solution in countries with very low overall recycling rates as Romania, which at the beginning of 2024 implemented the DRS.

Drop-off centers can also work, but in this case the incentive for people to collect and pass bottles to designated depots is much lower.

The glass recycling process: which are the main challenges?

The recycling process for glass can be challenging when it is not separated at the source and may be collected along with other materials like plastics, where the glass is often broken and contaminated and can be difficult to recycle. That is why lots of glass still ends up in landfills and that’s a real shame knowing it takes around 4000 years for a glass bottle to decompose in the environment.

Another challenge is the different colors of the glass that need to be sorted for recycling, adding some complexity to the process. The weight itself could be a challenge as transportation costs go up. And last, but not least, the costs behind the recycling process in terms of resources and technologies.

Facilitating the glass recycling process

Normally, the glass recycling process involves several steps and technologies to transform old glass into new one. The typical process involves collecting and sorting, which can be done by hand, by optical scanners or mechanical screening to size the glass and remove the contaminants. Once sorted the glass is cleaned from labels, caps and crushed, melted, refined, cooled, controlled and finally it takes the shape of a product.

Ecostar has made the glass separation from other waste and the sizing more simple and more convenient for the operators. Here are some great examples of glass treatment with the DDS (Dynamic Disc Screening) technology in recycling plants in Italy and France where we have either glass mixed with plastics or bottles that need to be crushed and sorted by size.

Glass Recycling Plant in Italy: The Case of REVET Spa

In Italy, we successfully integrated a stationary HEXACT 8000 disc screen into an existing and operational plant. This screen is designed to correctly separate glass from multi-material, mixed with 2D plastics, into fractions of 0-40mm and >40mm using only three 7.5kW motors.

Finally, the discs are equipped with the Glass Breaker system, developed by our R&D department, which involves enhancing the disc with a specially selected material to reduce abrasions and ensure long-lasting disc durability.

Watch the Hexact stationary screen in action at the Revet spa plant here.

Glass recycle: how can we improve glass recycling

Glass Recycling Plant in France

For our client in France, who required an effective solution to break and properly separate glass, we designed two screens:

  • The first is a Hexact 8000, equipped with specially designed discs tasked with breaking the glass and separating it into fractions of 0-180mm, 180-350mm, and oversize. The screen processes 20T/h;
  • The second is a Hexact 4000, responsible for separating plastics from glass into fractions of 0-50mm. The screen processes 12 T/h of material.

The Benefits of Ecostar Technologies for Glass Separation and Recycling

  • Reduced maintenance and wear of the screen over time;
  • Reduced energy consumption thanks to the 7.5kW electric motors;
  • Minimal space required due to the compactness of the Hexact and its modularity
  • Reduced cleaning interventions thanks to the patented DDS (Dynamic Disc Screening) technology;
  • Guaranteed reduction of disc wear through the Glass Breaker system;
  • Maximum disc durability thanks to Hardox, the material used for all Ecostar screen discs.

Is glass recycling profitable?

The profitability of recycling glass for recycling companies can vary depending on several factors, including market demand for recycled glass, transportation costs, treatment and separation technology efficiency, and the availability of end markets for recycled glass products.

Recycling companies need reliable buyers for their recycled glass, such as glass manufacturers or companies that use recycled glass in construction materials. If we could produce less plastic and use glass as an alternative, the demand for glass would be higher thus the market would be more profitable. Deposit-refund systems, where consumers pay a deposit on glass bottles that is refunded upon return, can also support glass recycling profitability.

As we conclude, let’s remember: while profitability is crucial for businesses, the true profit of recycling glass extends far beyond financial gains. It benefits the planet, our environment, ourselves, and the future of all generations to come. In the grand scheme of things, this holistic profit is the most valuable of all.