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The truth behind glass recycling

Shabeer Jhetam, CEO of The Glass Recycling Company, gives u|Chief the inside scoop on how glass is recycled.

  • Photos: Consol

What is the difference in terms of a returnable bottle and a non-returnable?

Returnable bottles are glass beverage bottles that can be returned to a supermarket, liquor outlet or retailer once empty, for a refund. These glass containers will be sent to the beverage company where the bottles are sterilised and refilled, ready to be reused several times.

Returnable bottles include large beer bottles such as ‘quarts’ or ‘pints’, glass cola bottles and many spirit and liquor bottles. Returnable bottles have a thicker gauge (they are made from thicker glass) to withstand the numerous trips they will take to be refilled at the bottling plant. Beer bottles, for instance, do an average of 30 trips or fills before being chipped or scuffed, which is when they are recycled.

Non-returnable glass bottles are ‘one use only’ bottles that are filled with a beverage once and, thereafter, are sent back to the factory to be recycled, in other words, being melted and reformed into new glass bottles. You can, of course, reuse or repurpose a glass bottle or jar within the home or your place of work.

Beer bottles do an average of 30 trips or fills before being recycled.

Shabeer Jhetam, CEO, Glass Recycling Company

What are the positives and negatives of refundable bottles? Do they really wash them or are they crushed separate to other glass and remade into their original form?

Returnable bottles are certainly not crushed and remade. They are actually returned to the beverage manufacturer where they are then thoroughly checked for any damage, before being sterilised and refilled, after which they appear on shop shelves again with new product within. Should one of these returnable bottles be found to have any defects, it will then be crushed into ‘cullet’ before being recycled into a completely new bottle.

Refundable or returnable bottles are used by manufacturers as per customer preference. Often lower-income groups prefer the larger size, returnable bottles which come with a returns deposit, which sometimes makes the actual cost of the beverage cheaper than for single-use bottles. Higher income consumers prefer ‘one-way’ glass packaging, without the expectation of the bottles being returned. Some consumers find the process of returning the bottles a hassle, and this can be seen as a negative of the returnable system. There are benefits to both.

Returning an empty bottle for a refund is an easy and beneficial way to preserve the environment, because in this way less bottles end up in landfills.

“Often lower-income groups prefer the larger size, returnable bottles which come with a returns deposit, which sometimes makes the actual cost of the beverage cheaper than for single-use bottles.”

How much glass do we have out there that is NOT currently being recycled?

The Glass Recycling Company does not recycle or collect any glass for recycling. All glass recycled in South Africa is recycled into new glass at South Africa’s two glass manufacturers, who are shareholders of TGRC.

Around 86% of packaging glass (i.e. bottles and jars) placed in the market is prevented from entering landfills through the returnable bottling system as well as the many recycling of glass. Conversely, only 16% of glass packaging that is used is sent directly to landfills. This is the highest diversion from landfill rate in comparison to any other packaging in SA.

“Only 16% of glass packaging that is used is sent directly to landfills. This is the highest diversion from landfill rate in comparison to any other packaging in SA.”

www.theglassrecyclingcompany.co.za

  • The Glass Recycling Company (TGRC) is the national recycling body mandated to increase recycling in South Africa. It is a not for profit organisation that is passionate about ensuring that every South African realises the value of recycling glass and actively embraces this practice.
    TGRC was established following a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2005, with the Department of Environmental Affairs. The role of the organisation is to increase glass reuse through returnable bottles and recycling in South Africa. In 10 short years, TGRC have increased the glass recycling rate from 18% to 41.1%.
    In addition, they support Government’s principles and guidelines for transformation striving to develop more entrepreneurs in the formal and informal sectors by assisting in creating income generating opportunities and skills transfer to historically disadvantaged South Africans.