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Bottlenecks to glass return and refill in the United Kingdom: user journeys to explore industry perspectives

A profitable export market and mixed glass collection systems present a challenge to improving UK glass recycling figures. Meanwhile, large-scale bottle deposit schemes have faced opposition from the sector. In this paper, researchers interviewed senior industry stakeholders to explore their perceptions about the potential for glass container refill schemes in the UK.

Published on 30 April 2024

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Cinderby, S., & McKendree, J. (2024). Bottlenecks to glass return and refill in the United Kingdom: User Journeys to explore industry perspectives. Sustainable Futures, 7:100197.

Glass is one of the only materials that can be recycled infinitely, but the UK remelts just 36% of the glass it collects into new containers — a surprisingly low figure given the material supply issues in the glass industry. Bottle deposit schemes have also proved unpopular with the sector, with proposed initiatives either being postponed or left out of consideration.

In this paper, researchers responded to these challenges by interviewing senior representatives of key stakeholders and analysing their responses to gauge perceptions of national refill schemes for the UK.

The mixing of glass colours during recycling collection is a significant barrier to improving the UK's capacity for remelting and reusing glass.

Photo: SolStock / Getty Images

Those surveyed included both glass manufacturers and glass distributors. The researchers categorized challenges that the interviewees had identified and found that six key themes emerged:

  • Policy/regulation
  • Logistics
  • Economics
  • Industrial/technological
  • Sustainability
  • Social

They then produced a detailed analysis of the subtopics contained within these themes and assessed what type of statement had been given: a challenge, solution, or opportunity.

The interviewees indicated that they felt local forms of return and refill schemes for particular types of product could be effective and environmentally friendly. However, stakeholders expressed a stronger preference for directing investment towards colour-separated glass collection: increasing the UK’s recycling rate to 90% would be a more effective and sustainable approach for addressing supply issues, especially given the context of net zero targets for container glass manufacture. National coordination and oversight will be crucial to making any such efforts a success.

This work is part of UKRI’s Transforming Foundation Industries Research and Innovation hub (TransFIRe). The program investigates how foundations industries — cement, metals, ceramics and glass, paper and chemicals — can work towards a more sustainable sector.

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Topics and subtopics
Economy : Supply chains
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