Before you deposit the next beer or wine bottle into your blue bin, here are a few things to know about recycling your favorite sand-based product:
- It has the quickest turnaround of any curbside product, back on store shelves in as little as 30 days
- There’s a strong market for recycled glass, and the demand is not currently met
- A good portion of glass that you place in your recycling bin is not actually recycled.
What is Downcycling?
According to O-I Global, the leading glass manufacturer in North America, about 1.6 million tons of glass are downcycled, translating to almost 40 percent of the 4.2 million tons collected annually for recycling. Furthermore, this 4.2 million tons represents only 25 percent of total glass manufactured, as shown in the chart below.
Let’s start by explaining what happens to all this glass that isn’t reprocessed into new containers. To do this, we need to understand the concept of downcycling.
Downcycling is the process by which materials are recycled into a product of lesser-quality. An example for glass containers would be fiberglass or using it as an additive in concrete or ceramic tiles. The decision to downcycle glass is usually based on the quality of material, but who makes that call?
“This is most often the decision of the Material Recovery Facility (MRF),” says Paul Smith, O-I’s Global Sourcing Manager of Cullet. “Aggregate use of glass is important but limited in application. The recycling rate through MRFs could improve.”
One of the issues is the popularity of single-stream recycling, where all materials are collected in one bin. The materials are then separated at the MRF using a system of magnets, eddy currents and other machines, with glass being separated based on its weight.
During this process, glass tends to be crushed, which lowers the quality and increases the chances it will be downcycled. Smith says crushing can be a negative because large sizes are preferred when it comes to reprocessing glass into new containers.