COVID-19 has changed everyday life, but it hasn’t changed the grim forecast for the planet if corporations, people, and governments don’t adapt to make responsible choices. For this reason, O-I Glass, Inc. is trying to be the most sustainable maker of glass packaging, which is one of the most circular food and beverage packages available. On World Environment Day 2020, amidst a worldwide pandemic, good recycling habits are more critical than ever.
Reduced energy use goes hand-in-hand with the amount of endlessly recyclable glass used to make new containers. This is why we’ve designed our manufacturing process to use a significant amount of recycled glass to create new glass containers. Our glass bottles and jars worldwide have an average of 38% post-consumer recycled glass content; that number can be close to 90% in Europe.
Consumers and municipalities play a critical role in supplying O-I and other manufacturers with the recycled glass they use every day. When all of us make it a priority to recycle and our elected officials, cities, and towns do their part to make sure our recyclables are collected, O-I and others can continue to re-manufacture those products into new ones. And when it comes to glass, the possibilities are literally endless–that’s because a glass container can be remade into another container endlessly with no loss of material or quality.
COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in how some communities in the U.S. view and manage waste management and recycling, and those weaknesses are telling. Supplies of recycled glass have dropped 62% in New York and New Jersey; Oregon has seen a decrease of 34%.
The same troubling pattern also has emerged in the U.S. states that have container deposit-redemption programs. Bottle bill states provide glass manufacturers with up to 60% of recycled material that becomes new glass bottles and jars, according to the Container Recycling Institute. Sixty percent! That means recyclable bottles and jars that would normally be back in the supply chain are piling up in homes and garages during the pandemic. The Wall Street Journal estimates there’s $60 million worth of perfectly recyclable containers sitting in Michigan homes right now—that’s the equivalent of about 600 million containers. The state’s bottle redemption centers start opening June 15.
In 2020, we have reached a point where recycling, in all its forms, is essential and cannot simply be discontinued as if it were a luxury or convenience practice. Consumers expect their recyclables to be recycled and expect those materials to be reused as part of the new goods they purchase. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is making an urgent plea reminding people to recycle because U.S. manufacturing of all sorts of goods depends on it. Let’s use some of these lessons from the pandemic constructively to highlight the flaws in the system and our biases—and we might even protect the hundreds of thousands of American jobs that it supports in the process.
Let’s use some of these lessons from the pandemic constructively to highlight the flaws in the system.
Recycling can’t be paused. The United States can do better—it must do better. It need only to look at the European nations that are successfully creating closed loop economies. The European Union posts 76% glass recycling rates, according to the European glass-container trade association, FEVE. European shoppers are also choosing glass packaging more than ever according to a new study, and they say they do it because they want to lessen their impact on the environment.
It’s not just the EU. Mexico, South America and Canada are leaders in using returnable and refillable glass bottles and jars in a closed loop economy. In fact, the government of Quebec acknowledged pausing bottle redemption programs during the pandemic had “significant economic and environmental consequences,” and ordered retailers to restart by June 8.
On World Environment Day, and every day, we want you to know we support glass recycling. We ask you to join us in creating good recycling habits to support sustainable manufacturing, a sustainable product, and the planet for years to come.