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Living Lightly column

About Values … (and Glass)

By Richard Paschke, Wangaratta

If you are a Baby Boomer or older you may remember the times before recycling. Drinks came in bottles, bottles came in wooden crates, which went back into the crate when empty. Crates full of empty bottles were returned to the shop where you were given a refund or a deduction for the purchase of a new crate.

Bottles went back to the drinks manufacturer, where they were washed and refilled. After about ten cycles, the bottles went into a recycling stream and new bottles were produced – still in Australia.

Today we buy a ‘slab’, 24 bottles (or cans) wrapped in cardboard which is shrink wrapped in soft plastic. The empty bottles are thrown away after a single use.

We assume now is that these bottles will be recycled into new ones – but that is far from what really happens.

If the bottle is chucked into a recycling bin, it will go through a couple of stages; first, it will be picked up by a compaction truck, to be transported to a Material Recovery Facility where materials are sorted. Bottles break and produce small glass pieces, or glass fines, smaller than 2mm in size. Glass fines contaminate other materials being recycled, especially paper.

The re-covered glass, or cullet, may be sorted into different colours. Surely this cullet will be used to produce new bottles?

As it turns out, it is a lot cheaper to buy new bottles from China. These Chinese bottles may or may not even contain recycled glass.
“Recycled” glass is instead being stockpiled in warehouses all over Victoria.

Does that sound like a circular economy?

Some recycling companies are now installing glass crushers, used to crush the glass into sand. This means high costs, far outweighing the value of the resulting product.

Yes, this solution is closer to a circular economy, but does it save resources? And just how viable it it?

For circular economy to work it needs to be viable and no matter which way you look at it glass recycling is not viable.

Some countries in Europe still have reusable glass and plastic bottles. Bottles are returned to crates and reused, with both crates and bottles being valuable resources.

Has throwing out bottles after one use changed our values?