Green Oversite



Glass Container Re -Use

It lacks economic and common sense that a glass container is manufactured, used once and then either discarded or melted down and reformed into another container. This is exceedingly wasteful of materials and energy. A glass container can be re-used in its current form many times (up to twenty times) without significant degradation, as witnessed by drinking glasses. The current system is a failure of the market place which can be rectified with modest Government leadership.

The reason why reuse does not occur now is the huge range of glass container shapes. With the current situation containers used by say "Kraft Foods" for peanut butter can only go back to "Kraft Foods" if they were to be reused. Similarly for other manufacturers. Consequently the cost of collecting and sorting the containers from each manufacturer is high and the logistics a nightmare. A collection company would need to have the area to separate hundreds of different types of containers and staff who are able to recognise which glass container belongs in which pile. Similar problems arise with a deposit system. This is why reuse is deemed impractical and uneconomic by recyclers and food producers alike. If however Standard Containers were used by not just "Kraft" but other food producers as well then you would get an economy of scale and simplicity of sorting which would make collection, cleaning and reuse worthwhile for the collector and the food producer.

This paper contains an outline of a method of implementation of Standardised Glass Containers in Australia.

  1. Standards Australia is an organisation in Australia that, through industry, professional and Government support, prepares Australian Standards that define acceptable standards and guidelines for design, operations and manufacture within an industry. This is for the benefit of the industry and for Australia in general.

    Therefore the first step in the Standardisation of glass containers in Australia is the development of an Australian Standard (AS) for (glass) Containers.

    Standardisation will mean that there will be one or two types of interchangeable container for each size of product sold. Eg 50 ml, 100 ml, 200 ml, 250 ml, 375 ml 500 ml, 750 ml, 1000 ml, 1250 ml. There would need to be both bottle and jar types in some sizes. Consequently there would be 11 to 13 different container types. These Standard Glass Containers will have one type of lid for each size (although some lids may suit a number of container sizes). Reuse of lids could also be considered. Labels will be stick-on and will come off in water (the requirements for the glue will be as specified in Australian Standard). All Standard containers would have the AS logo on them to allow easy differentiation from non standard containers. Design will be based on ease of use and of re-use, suitability for a range of products, washing, longevity and current popular glass container design. There will also need to be bans on their usage for containing certain noxious materials (some supporting legislation may be needed). The AS Standard would also include standards for cleaning, glass condition and testing.

  2. The AS containers would be collected for reuse through the now well established and well-used local council recycling kerbside pickup system. Introduction of an expensive deposit system and an alternate collection system would not be necessary. After collection, instead of the glass containers going to be crushed, melted and reformed, they could be on sold to companies specialising in washing and sanitising the AS compliant containers. These companies would then resell the containers to the food producers. Consequently a container that may have held honey from Capilano originally may be sold to Kraft for peanut butter.

    AS containers would cut down on the transportation of empty containers as food producers would be able to source reused containers from their local township where they operate. For example Ardmona would be able to source reused containers from Shepparton instead of getting new containers from Melbourne. Containers that may have once held honey consumed by Shepparton residents could be collected and cleaned by the local recycler and sold to Ardmona for use as a fruit container.

    The standardised container solves the problem of sorting the glass containers into a very large variety of containers that can only then be sold to the food producer who uses that particular container shape. The standardisation to only 11 to 13 different types makes glass container reuse practicable and commercial.

    The food producers would differentiate their products by labelling and brand name recognition (as is presently done with carton milk and some brands of beer).

    This re-use system would boost the currently struggling recycling industry, providing an additional reliable and higher value income stream.

  3. Use of AS containers need not be compulsory. Companies will be encouraged to use the new container through advertisement and subsequent public pressure - it will be seen as anti- social not to use AS containers. The pricing of these reused containers would also be very attractive to food producers when compared to new containers. As a back-up there could be a taxing regime for the purchase non AS containers. This would be in the form of a sales tax that would not apply to the reusable containers. This charge will reflect the cost to the community for landfill usage, carbon emissions due to inefficient energy use and the community priority for efficiency of resource use (and also high enough to make the AS reusable containers more competitive against new one use containers if this is necessary).

    Importers who supply imported product in non Standard containers would also have to pay this tax. There is no reason why the overseas producer if interested in suppling the Australian market should not also use Australian Standard containers as the complete specification of the containers will be available to all people and could just as easily be produced by an overseas container manufacturer. Alternately the importer can import product in bulk for packaging in Australia, which is environmentally preferable anyway.

    One of the major social benefits of a sales tax as opposed to a GST is that items that are seen to be socially beneficial can easily be given a tax advantage that reflects that social benefit. A GST by comparison taxes Mercedes Benz cars at the same rate as food. A tax regime should also be considered for steel and other containers to encourage the change over to reusable glass.

    As an alternative (or complementary) to the sales tax approach to encourage the use of Standard containers Government could legislatively mandate that Companies to recover a large percentage of the containers that they use for production. The method of achieving that requirement would be the Company’s choice. The Company could maintain their current diverse range of containers and introduce and operate an expensive deposit system, or use the cheap option of Standard containers and let the recycling industry recover and supply them with cleaned Standard containers at a fraction of the cost through the kerbside pick-up system.

  4. Innovative ways of cleaning glass containers may need to be developed if they do not exist already. This is to cut down on energy and wash water waste from cleaning containers. This would have to be less than the energy usage from remelting and forming new containers from recycled glass or forming from new materials.

  5. There would probably be opposition from the producers of glass containers as their production would be decreased significantly over time. However the market would force them to comply as the demand from food producers for the AS containers increased.

    Some transition protection may need to be considered for the companies and workers in the new glass container production industry. Jobs would be created in the container collection /cleaning /re-use industry. There would be no net loss of jobs, and potentially a net gain as a machine and energy intensive system is replaced with a more labour intensive industry for sorting the collected containers (although this too could be eventually mechanised, with some form of bar coding on the standard containers allowing mechanisation of sorting).

  6. Even if the taxing incentives were thought to be politically or financially unsustainable (although I fail to see why) merely the introduction of the Australian Standard may encourage the adoption of the standard containers by some food producers. (This approach would work well if a commitment had been received from a couple of the major food producers to use the Standard containers, prior to the release of the Australian Standard.) Even if initially, because of low volumes, reuse of the containers did not occur very little cost would have been incurred and it would create a base that would expand until a critical mass is reached and reuse would become economical.

  7. The development of a new Standard commences with a request to Standards Australia from the community, usually an industry group or Government, for a Standard that cover a particular area. In this case it is unlikely that glass container manufacturers will lobby for the development of such a Standard for their industry. Therefore the initiative should come from Government (or alternately a well established and recognised community group) requesting the development of the Standard. Key food producers should also be consulted, the benefits explained and their support enlisted for the Standardisation. Support from the recycling industry should also be sort. Once the request is received Standards Australia then considers whether there is Community support for the new Standard and that it is in the national interest. If decided in the affirmative Standards Australia assembles a Technical Committee comprising industry and other expertise. This Committee has the task of developing the Standard. If co-operation was not forthcoming from industry then University or overseas expertise would have to be used to formulate the Standard. (Industry may be forced to co-operate once the first draft was circulated and introduction was seen as inevitable.)

    To show that Standardisation is not beyond the realm of the type of things that Standards Australia involve themselves in, a Standard already exists for milk bottles. This would have been useful to the industry at the time all milk was in reusable bottles when there were a number of companies supplying milk and using the bottles. (Paradoxically milk is one of the food items that is least suitable for reusable containers because its high protein content makes cleaning of the containers difficult and energy consuming. Milk would probably remain in cartons unless this cleaning problem can be solved.)

  8. Food producers that currently use steel or plastic containers should be encouraged to change over to glass containers.

  9. Once implemented for glass containers consideration should be given to the introduction of a reuse scheme for other non glass containers in areas other than food production. This would be most effective for containers that could not be replaced with glass. Examples of this are the plastic trigger squeeze containers for bathroom and kitchen cleaners, dishwashing detergent bottles and hair shampoo containers. (Manufacturers of Weedkillers, etc. would have to be banned from using these standard plastic containers, possibly having their own range of containers of different colours.) Exactly the same approach for the reuse of plastic containers could be utilised as outlined above for glass containers.

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