Separate collection, delivery points and consumer attitude make a difference when it comes to recycling waste
Glass is 100% recyclable, with no quality loss. It can be used infinitely, and it is also returnable and reusable. All this helps reduce energy consumption, waste generation and CO2. emissions.
“Recycling is an inherent part of the glass production process,” said Caroline Morais, Institutional Relations and Sustainability Manager at the Brazilian Association of Glass Industries (Abividro). “Unlike other materials, glass is a mineral, 65% of which is molten sand. It just needs to be heated again to become malleable, and can be reshaped indefinitely. A advantage of glass is that it involves no technical/chemical limitations for recycling, and for this reason companies try to find new possibilities in glass shards, new partners to take recycling to the next level,” she added.
In Brazil, more than 8.6 billion glass items are produced per year, which accounts for 1.3 million tons of glass and generates revenues of approximately BRL 120 million. According to the Brazilian Association of Glass Industries (Abividro), only 300,000 tons of this total are recycled. Annual energy savings from recycling are around 40%, and emissions of 100,000 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere are avoided. In addition, for every kilo of glass shards 1.2 kilo of virgin glass is spared.
Separation and collection – Despite its potential for full recycling, there are still bottlenecks for glass to be fully recycled. Of the 8.6 million tons produced annually in Brazil, only 300,000 tons get to be recycled.
According to Abividro’s Caroline, the main challenge for recycling is the stage of separation and collection: “Issues include whether separate collection is available locally, whether a delivery point is available, whether consumers will separate the waste before delivering it. Often times, this is not the case. Consumers will not separate it, or will separate it and the special collection will not be available and so the waste ends up going to a landfill.”
According to Juliana Schunck, Director of glass recycling company Massfix, an additional challenge is Brazil’s sheer size, which makes collection difficult in all regions. “We live in a continent-sized country. Logistical arrangements need to be big in order to cover all regions. In addition, roads are Brazil’s primary mode of cargo transportation, which involves a high cost, unlike rail or sea.”
In order to minimize this bottleneck, both emphasize that it is necessary to raise awareness of consumers so that they can properly separate their waste. “Our biggest competitors are landfills since you can only work with the waste if it is separated. The circular economy should be everyone’s concern,” said Juliana.
In addition to citizens’ efforts, local governments need to do their part by conducting separate collection properly. “In the case of glass, it is important that local governments refrain from using compactor trucks for the separate collection since this type of truck will smash the glass and it in turn gets mixed with other types of waste, thus making it impossible to separate it, and it even becomes dangerous for pickers,” explains Carolina.
Despite the difficulties, Carolina said that, in recent years, there has been a 40% increase in the average recycling rate for glass containers. “In some particular industrial sectors this rate comes to as much as 80%,” she said.
Reverse logistics – Once produced, glass containers are used in the food, beverage and cosmetics industries. Jars and bottles are filled, packaged and then lined up for distribution. After consumption, they are disposed of, and this is where the reverse logistics process begins, which will culminate in the glass being fed back into the consumer market.
The first step is for the waste to be collected and used by processing companies. Collection is performed by these companies, which can buy the waste from cooperatives of pickers, provide voluntary collection points in supermarkets, on the streets, in restaurants, etc. or partner with large waste generators, such as hotels.
In Brasilia, Green Ambiental has been doing this work for six years now. “Today, Green Ambiental sends around 1,200 tons every month to recycling companies. Brasilia generates approximately 150 tons of glass daily, which makes around 4,500 tons per month. We have 120 voluntary delivery glass collection points and others commissioned by large generators such as supermarkets and companies. Some of these companies make these facilities accessible to the public. We also receive waste from cooperatives,” said Roberto Bretas, managing partner and founder of Green Ambiental.
Massfix is also a processing company. It has been recycling of shards of flat glass, laminated glass and container glass since 1991. It is currently the only company in the market to recycle all types of glass. It currently operates in a large area of the Southeast region with more than a thousand suppliers, including small and large generators from different sectors. In 2021, Massfix collected 220 thousand tons of glass.
“We have dedicated logistical capabilities to operate directly in places that produce five tons or more of waste per month, such as hotels, restaurants, glass shops, and in particular cooperatives of pickers. We provide containers for the glass to be stored and then we carry out the logistics work and transport this glass to one of our plants. We rely on more than 70 vehicles and we collect the glass in more than 20 states,” said Juliana Schunck, a director with Massfix.
According to Abividro, seven companies, plus Ambev, have dedicated glass plants, i.e they manufacture glass containers and reuse the waste that has been used in the process. “Our partners are manufacturers and recyclers. All glass in Brazil comes form one of our partners,” said Caroline.
Owens Illinois (O-I) is one of the glass container manufacturers. It is the largest of this type of container in Brazil and the largest recycler of this waste. O-I intends to achieve 50% use of shards as raw materials for the production of new containers by 2030. According to O-I, “the shards are fully used in the manufacturing process, resulting in new containers that bear the same attributes as those produced from virgin raw materials, with each kilo of shard used in the production of new containers replacing the equivalent of 1 .2 kilo of virgin raw materials, thus benefiting the environment and society.”