Long-Term Sustainability from the Perspective of Cullet Recycling in the Container Glass Industry: Evidence from Italy

Mario Testa, Ornella Malandrino, Maria Sessa, Stefania Supino, Daniela Sica
2017 Sustainability  
Glass manufacturing is a high-volume process, during which large substance quantities are transformed into commercial products, and significant amounts of non-renewable resources and energy (i.e., thermal fuels and electrical power) are consumed. The main purpose of this study is to give a critical explanation of the performance of the Italian container glass industry from the perspective of cullet being recycled, to outline the opportunities for transition towards circular business models that
more » ... usiness models that stimulate innovation in new sectors based on reverse-cycle activities for recycling. In 2015, disparate performances have been achieved as regards the container glass recycling rate in northern, central, and southern Italy, accounting for around 73%, 64%, and 55%, respectively. In fact, only northern Italy is in line with European targets, as by 2025 it will only need to increase its current performance by two percentage points, unlike central and southern Italy that will have to increase performance by, respectively, 11% and 20%. This shows a need to improve the efficiency of municipal waste collection systems in central and southern Italy, where undifferentiated waste still holds appreciable amounts of glass. Consequently, we propose several improvement channels, from the revision of waste legislation to the re-engineering of waste management supply chains. Today, glass is one of the most important materials, playing a key role both in sectors considered traditional (building, automotive, packaging) and in more innovative ones. In the innovative sectors, glass in combination with specific substances is used for high-tech applications, such as space exploration, medical research, optics, and telecommunications. Worldwide, the main glass sectors are as follows: container glass, the largest world glass sector, which includes a large variety of products utilized in packaging foods, beverages, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, etc.; flat glass, the second largest, which includes products utilized in building, transport, and photovoltaic energy; continuous filament glass and glass wool for insulation, roofing, the reinforcement of composite materials, etc.; domestic and special glass, which includes, respectively, drinking glasses and oven dishes and optical glass, electrical equipment screens, and lighting glass. The glass industry is essentially a commodity industry, in which over 80% of output is sold to other industries, although ways of adding value to high-volume products have been developed to ensure the industry remains competitive [3] (p. 2). Glass manufacturing is a high-volume process, during which large quantities of substances are turned into commercial products, consuming large amounts of non-renewable resources and energy in the process (thermal fuels and electrical power) [2, 4, 5] . Therefore, it is an energy-and resource-intensive industry, and, like other similar industries, such as the iron and steel, aluminium, cement, pulp and paper, and chemicals industries, is central to supporting the transition towards higher levels of energy and material efficiency, low carbon emissions, and increased resource productivity, through the deployment of better performance towards sustainability [6] . Enterprises in energy-and material-intensive industrial sectors are central to reducing energy consumption in several ways, including technological improvements in manufacturing processes to reduce energy waste and recover lost energy and recycling secondary raw materials originating from industrial and municipal waste. Particularly, in glass manufacturing, cullet (crushed glass ready to be recycled) is used as a batch material, substituting for virgin raw materials. Cullet is classified as internal or external if it derives, respectively, from imperfect products rejected at quality control during the industrial process of glass manufacturing and production cut-offs or from waste glass collected and/or reprocessed for recycling. It enhances the glass melting process's efficiency and reduces the amount of air pollutants (dust, other particulate matter, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, etc.) [3] (p. 98). This leads to decreasing costs, an improving material and energy efficiency, and the minimization of pollution [7] . The European glass industry, the world's largest producer with a share of around one third of the total glass market [8], has been engaged for decades to reach higher levels of energy and material efficiency and minimize environmental impact, thus increasing resource productivity; enhancing the recyclability of glass products through a life-cycle perspective; improving the economic, environmental, and social performance of sustainability [9] ; and identifying new avenues in the field of the circular economy. A successful implementation strategy based on the circular economy requires a combined view of three main aspects: resource scarcity, waste generation, and sustaining economic benefits [10] . This is achieved with the joint support of all stakeholders. The glass industry applies the principles of the circular economy more effectively. Unfortunately, for the European glass industry, the final amount of energy consumption is not available for each member state, because data on the quantities and types of energy sources used are considered sensitive and are not made public by manufacturers. As such, the main purpose of this work is to focus on and evaluate the performance of the Italian container glass industry from the perspective of cullet recycling, outlining the opportunities for a transition towards circular business models that stimulate innovation in new sectors dedicated to reverse-cycle recycling activities. This paper first analyses the state-of-the-art in the European glass industry, paying attention to the container glass sector to evaluate potential challenges in energy and material efficiency improvements, with a focus on environmental sustainability and industrial competitiveness. The Italian container glass industry, one of the most important European manufacturers of container glass, is then investigated to outline its characteristics and evaluate its performance in raw material and energy efficiency as well
doi:10.3390/su9101752 fatcat:hr6fthdltngtdb2ml4uplvqtfm