Increase recycled content to 50% average by 2030. O-I is taking a holistic approach to increase recycled content rates across its enterprise network, as rates vary significantly by geography.
At O-I we know that glass is never trash, which is why it is an ideal package for the circular economy. Glass is 100% recyclable, infinitely. It can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity, making it a permanent material. Glass containers already enjoy a very high circularity rate. About 80% of glass containers that are recycled go back into making new glass—and can do so in as little as 30 days. With high circularity in containers now, and the potential for much more, it is easy to see why we are passionate and excited about the role glass can play in all of our global, circular economy and climate change ambitions. The innate circularity of glass and the low-carbon potential it unlocks for the circular economy is unrivaled by practically all other packaging.
Unlike most other packaging manufacturers who buy their raw material and convert it into containers, we make the raw material—glass—before we transform it into a container. And we know how much of each ingredient, including recycled glass, we are melting into our recipe. This fact sets O-I apart from other packaging makers because we do not need “mass balance” or other complicated formulas from suppliers to tell us how much recycled content is in the raw material we are using. Globally, in 2020, our glass products contained an average of 38% cullet by tons packed, and 35% of our furnace footprint was averaging at least 50% recycled content. We are committed to improving the markets for recycled glass, improving glass recycling, and using more recycled glass in our processes.
Through our efforts to improve recycling and increase recycled content, we are working not only to reduce raw material use, but also to make strides toward our zero-waste goal, by recapturing internal cullet from our manufacturing process. This also provides opportunities for our communities to meet their waste and recycling goals.
Improving recycling is vital to offset the demand for natural resources, reduce emissions, and leverage the recyclability and circularity of glass. Every ton of glass recycled saves 1.16 tons of raw materials for future generations. Recycling glass requires 10-12% less energy than producing new glass from virgin materials. These savings increase with the rate of recycled glass used in production. Every 10% of recycled glass reduces carbon emissions by 5%.
To unlock the full benefit and circularity of glass, we are actively investing to improve recycling in North America and other key markets. One pillar of our vision is to re-balance the dialogue about the recyclability, circularity, and benefits of glass with a robust glass advocacy campaign. In addition to education and awareness, along with industry partners, we are also studying and making targeted investments in the recycling value chain to create new, disruptive, and effective solutions that will change the status quo.
To make real change, our vision requires industry thought leadership and building a coalition to create a transformative, innovative, and collaborative recycling program. In the near term, our roadmap is focused on the recycling ecosystems around our factories and to make targeted investments to find scalable solutions. Toward this end, we are proactively collaborating with customers, associations, suppliers, and local leaders to achieve 100% availability of glass recycling in the communities where we operate. We seek to improve and stimulate the markets for collection and processing of post-consumer glass.
In developing our vision for recycling, we ground our efforts in three principles: to be holistically sustainable, collaborative, and impactful. We strive for sustainability by building for long-term strength and resiliency, which includes removing inefficiencies and designing an ecosystem for both recovery and reuse in the manufacturing process. We organize to actcollaboratively, developing positive external and internal relationships, pooling available resources, and seeking stakeholder buy-in. We drive for an impact that disrupts the current paradigm, dispels recycling myths, and leads to a positive recycling dialogue. Changing recycling for the better is living the behavior we believe will make our vision a reality: achieving balance together by transforming what we do.
At O-I, we see tremendous opportunity to positively impact the planet and communities where we operate. We have several targeted initiatives aimed at growing and improving glass recycling—from providing community grants, to purchasing infrastructure, and promoting best practices for improving environmental and economic impacts. The more recycled glass O-I can use in the manufacturing process, the better it is for the planet. That’s why it’s important for us to continue to educate people about recycling glass and how local recycling measures are so valuable for creating a circular economy.
Glass Recycling Process
Making glass containers involves complex processing. Recycling them is very simple. For most consumers, recycling a glass container is as simple as placing it in the recycling bin at home or a local drop-off. No sorting. No separating. No worries if it’s broken. Glass is the only packaging material that is 100% recyclable, infinitely.
Once collected in a single stream collection process, glass is taken to a local materials recovery facility (MRF). In the event of sourced separated glass (like at a drop-off or redemption center), recycled glass bypasses the local materials recovery facility and goes directly to the glass processing plant. At the MRF, glass is further broken and quickly separated from other recyclables. Fortunately, glass containers are easy to separate from other recyclables. Glass is typically the first to be processed as it is among the easiest to separate without the need for manual sorting or high-energy processes.
The separated glass is then sent to a processing plant for cleaning (removing metals, ceramics, and plastics) and automatic color separation by optical technology. Once cleaned and separated, the glass is ready to offset the need for raw materials to make new, sustainable containers that can be recycled again at the end of their use.
Consistent with the approach of other glass recycling processors, we operate through multi-year supply contracts ensuring there is an end market for curbside glass recycling. Beyond procuring cullet from private and public processors, O-I operates glass recycling processing plants, such as Glass to Glass in Oregon, U.S. and O-I PROMAPI in Mexico. Both are dedicated to the recovery and recycling of local glass containers. We are also involved in cullet processing in Italy with one of the newest and most technologically advanced glass cullet treatment plants in the country. In the last three years, O-I invested approximately $6 million (USD) in glass recycling processing facilities around the world.
In Europe and South America, O-I partners with many of our customers to collect cullet, creating closed-loop systems. These closed-loop systems focus on bringing products (end-of-life or obsolete) back to O-I so they can be recycled to create new glass. This reduces waste, increases recycled content in our products, facilitates more sustainable packaging, and reduces climate impact for both O-I and our customers. We are exploring how to expand these partnerships and focusing on North America particularly.
We have created partnerships with customers, associations, suppliers, and communities to drive recycling, reduce consumer waste, and conserve resources. Changes and development within recycling systems require multi-stakeholder engagement. Likewise, effective recycling systems require collaborative work—from collection, to separation, to processing. O-I leverages partnerships with local, national, and international associations that facilitate this collaboration through existing relationships with stakeholders and open dialogue.
O-I participates in associations specifically focused on recycling, joining with other public and private companies to collectively communicate with governments, garnering support for recycling policies and proposing cultural change. While we are globally active in many organizations, here are a few key examples of how we are collaborating and partnering with others to promote and improve recycling:
In North America, we belong to the Glass Packaging Institute (“GPI”) and have leadership roles in the organization. GPI promotes the use of glass and glass recycling. In 2020, GPI sponsored a study of glass recycling in key markets in the United States and has announced the vision of using the study to help bring glass recycling rates in the United States to 50% by 2030.
Glass Recycling Supports the Local Economy
One key myth about glass recycling is that China’s decision to reject imported plastics and other recyclables has had a negative impact on glass. Unlike plastics and some other recyclables that do rely on export markets to set values, the end market for recycled glass is primarily local. Most glass customers and suppliers are within 300 miles (500km) of production plants. Glass captured from curbside recycling in one community is often processed and delivered to glass manufacturers in the same area to create new glass packaging for that community. As such, glass is typically a domestic and local source of raw materials for local and domestic glassmakers. There is high demand for clean recycled glass.
In addition to the circularity potential for glass and the positive impact recycling glass has in relation to climate change, GPI also notes that recycling 1,000 tons of glass supports eight jobs. According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the glass recycling industry’s total positive economic impact in the United States is $634 million. Recycling glass makes sense environmentally and economically—and is one of the easiest ways to help fight climate change and create economic opportunity at the same time.
Promoting Local Recycling
Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania Recycling
O-I’s financial support also provides PRC the opportunity and flexibility to educate local government officials on the importance of glass recycling, explore new and expanded avenues for increased glass recovery, and support communities in looking to establish permanent drop-off sites. O-I support for drop-off sites aided the community, improved local recycling, and enhanced our supply of furnace-ready cullet. The program has been successful. So much so that its reach has expanded into other Western Pennsylvania communities, such as Erie.
O-I’s Connection to Brewery’s Glass Recycling Program
Historically, Crabtree Brewing Company and the surrounding community did not have access to glass recycling. Thanks to a little ingenuity, some recycling education, and a long friendship between a brewer and a second-generation O-I glassmaker, the Colorado craft brewery launched a glass recycling program from scratch, inviting anyone to drop-off their glass containers at the brewery. Crabtree’s glass recycling program was instantly a success. It attracted so many community members who wanted to recycle glass, the capacity outgrew the collection bin—twice. Crabtree and O-I partnered to increase the capacity of the program, and we are both excited for the program’s potential for growth.
Glass Recycling Advocacy
We believe that progress comes at the intersection of great ideas and action. This is why our company leaders regularly engage in public forums intended to explore ideas and encourage such progress. In 2020 and early 2021, our sustainability leaders were interviewed or provided content on recycling, among others, for the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Fast Company, Toledo Blade, Philadelphia Enquirer, and television stations in Cleveland, Ohio and Washington, DC. Our Chief Sustainability Officer delivered a TEDx-style presentation on recycling sponsored by a non-profit focused on the Great Lakes Region, appeared on a panel sponsored by the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and will speak on the glass sustainability narrative in November 2021 at the annual Glass Problems Conference. At O-I, we know that ideas are built from collaboration. Just as we know our people and their ideas are the foundation for our own innovations and transformation, we need a community of ideas to bring about change in the way we globally manage waste and recycling. We intend to do our part to drive and encourage thought leadership in this critical area.
Global Recycling Day
March 18 is designated as Global Recycling Day. Though we believe in recycling every day, the celebration allows O-I to reflect on recycling and spread awareness. This year, in honor of Global Recycling Day, O-I launched a podcast, with inaugural episode titled, “Every Day is Recycle Day.” Our Global VP of Sustainability, Jim Nordmeyer, sat down to talk all things glass recycling and dispel some of its myths. “It’s important that we look at ourselves and we look at what we do every day and the things that we can individually do to increase the longevity of our planet,” stated Nordmeyer.
“Why I Recycle” Social Media Campaign
EU “Close the Glass Loop” Campaign
Innovative Recycling Partnerships
Glass Recycling Pilot Program in Brazil
O-I and Heineken have joined forces to support a new glass recycling pilot program in Brazil. “We are thrilled to work with Heineken on an innovative project like this,” said Morgana Correa, O-I’s Sustainability Leader for Brazil. The pilot program encourages collection of bottles by enticing consumers to recycle through convenience and a reward system.
The program, “Volte Sempre,” is piloting in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais, Brazil. When empty, consumers take their glass bottles to one of nine “reverse-vending” type machines located at convenient places around town: supermarkets, bars, and multi-family housing complexes. By placing the machines in locations consumers are likely to visit often, the program seeks to make recycling as easy as possible.
When the empty is put into machine, it issues the consumer a credit through an app. The consumer can then redeem the credit when they purchase another Heineken product. The machine also crushes the glass so it can be returned to O-I to be used in new glass containers. This system keeps the glass clean, captures it all for reuse, and bypasses the contamination and product loss that occurs in co-mingled curbside collection. The separation of the glass and direct transport to O-I means that every bottle that stays in the manufacturing loop is supporting a low-waste, circular economy.
The Volte Sempre glass recycling project could be scalable to more cities and locations if the pilot period proves the concept and attracts sufficiently high consumer participation. O-I’s participation in the Volte Sempre recycling project is one way we demonstrate our commitment to innovative solutions and collaboration with our customers and stakeholders to find sustainability balance together.
Boomerang’s Durable, Refillable Glass Water Bottle Breaks Convention
Driven by the common desire to provide sustainable solutions, O-I has partnered with Boomerang Water to create Boomerang’s refillable and incredibly durable glass water bottle. The North Carolina-based company is on a mission to rid the world of single-use plastic bottles and reshape bottled water through innovation. Boomerang Water is an on-site, small-batch bottling water company providing water for commercial venues like hotels and college campuses—and even for families at home. Each Boomerang system sanitizes, fills, and caps glass bottles of ultra-purified water at the source for distribution, and accepts their empty bottles back into the system, eliminating the need for shipping or waste.
O-I was tasked by Boomerang with building a better water bottle, “as easy and convenient as on-the-go plastic, but made of higher quality materials to ensure ultra-purity and sustainability for our eco-conscious consumer,” said co-founder Jason Dibble. He also cites health and wellness benefits as another reason Boomerang loves glass bottles. “The glass prevents microplastics and toxins from leaching into the water so it’s healthier than our competition, and they’re infinitely reusable in our closed-loop system, so every bottle returned reduces carbon emissions by 90% and keeps plastic bottles out of the ocean.” We love Boomerang’s passion for glass and are proud to be part of their vision!
Many Happy Returns
As consumers and customers become more aware of their environmental footprint, there has been a growth in demand for refillable bottles. Refillable glass bottles (RGB) offer the most sustainable and economical rigid packaging option. In as few as five turns, RGBs offer the lowest environmental impact of any other packaging. Throughout its lifetime, returnable, refillable glass bottles can offer CO2 emission savings up to 66 times less, per container, than aluminum. For customers, cost per filling is reduced over the life cycle of the bottle, offering significant cost savings.
Glass4Good™ is a community-based recycling program that incentivizes recycling by generating local charitable donations for recycled glass. This program works towards six of our 10 global sustainability goals. We are currently developing a pilot program in several of our U.S. plant locations. Our pilot projects will provide proof of concept and establish best practices, enabling us to scale the program for more wide-spread deployment.
Forming for Our Future
Our near-term aspirations for recycling are focused in an area with large challenges, needs, and opportunities: North America. While we work towards robust recycling ecosystems everywhere we operate, improving recycling and access to cullet for our North American facilities is needed in the short term and has a considerable potential benefit for all stakeholders. In 2021, we are looking to pilot two types of collaborative collection and processing initiatives. One is our Glass4Good™ program. It is both an opportunity to provide glass recycling where it might not be available, but also a way for O-I to give back to communities by helping encourage glass recycling. This initiative includes exploring public-private partnerships to overcome barriers to glass recycling and get glass back into the circular economy. Another initiative looks to create zero-waste, closed-loop-type systems, where discarded or broken glass at nearby customer filling locations can be returned directly to O-I for near circularity of the containers.
Our longer-term aspirations involve partnering with our stakeholders to raise recycling rates in the U.S. to 50%. Our pilot programs are intended to be incubators with the potential to unlock scalable solutions, incrementally solving the complex challenge presented by the U.S. recycling system. However, O-I, nor any individual glassmaker or manufacturer of containers, can change the recycling habits and systems that locally serve millions of individuals and the communities. We will need the help of many, and almost certainly policymakers, to find solutions that move us toward climate-friendly, circular solutions.
To do this, we must all collectively understand the problem we are trying to solve. It is not just a problem of diverting glass, plastic, paper, metal, or other materials from landfills or preventing waste. Rather, to improve recycling and create circularity, we must design our disposal, collection, sorting, and redistribution to work together—to solve for both collection and for transforming these materials into cullet for remanufacturing. The entire value chain must be part of the solution. At O-I, we are committed to doing our part when and where we can to bring about positive change to glass recycling in particular.
Sustainability in Action
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