José Manuel Núñez-Lagos, director general of Ecovidrio, defends in this interview the “excellent quality” of glass container recycling in Spain, considers that in the current circumstances there is no need for a DRS for this type of packaging and welcomes the new SCRAP packaging, which asks “put quality criteria in front of the service”.

A year after the approval of the Royal Decree on packaging and packaging waste, and on the eve of negotiations among the European co-legislators on the new EU packaging regulation, we spoke with José Manuel Núñez Lagos, General Manager of Ecovidrio. On its 25th anniversary, the non-profit entity for glass recycling in Spain reported that for the first time, over one million tons of glass packaging have been recycled in our country, and it expects to close the year with a recycling rate of 70%, achieving the European goal two years ahead of schedule.

Its latest sustainability report indicates that in Spain, 7 out of 10 glass containers are recycled, surpassing for the first time the one million tons of collected glass packaging waste. The legal target of 70% by 2025 would be surpassed, unless a new, more demanding calculation method significantly impacts these data. How do you expect this to affect you?

The 2025 objective is 70% for glass according to a new, more demanding calculation method. By the end of 2023, we can say that we will close the year with an estimated rate above 70% using that new method. That is to say, we will meet the objective set by Europe two years in advance.

Indeed, compared to the previous method, there are decreases as is logical, since the rate is no longer measured at the entry of the waste into the treatment plant but at the output. That is, impurities and glass losses in the process are deducted, which seems very logical to us. This new method affects all countries. In Spain, glass packaging has a very high-quality recycling: we only have 2% impurities and an average loss in the plants (depending on each facility) of 6%. Although these are great data, we continue to work on efficiency plans to reduce impurities and reduce losses in the plants. Additionally, for example, we have very innovative projects underway where we use these rejects from the industrial process to generate other uses of glass. For example: cement. This is a very residual percentage since almost all of it is converted into cullet for new packaging, but we are proud to do what is necessary to prevent anything from reaching landfills.

A recent Greenpeace study placed the glass packaging recycling rate at just over 60%. It wouldn’t be a negligible percentage in any case, especially compared to the data presented in that report for other types of packaging, but it is clearly lower than what you handle. What do you think explains this difference?

The difference is not very significant, indeed. The latest official data published is from 2021 (it is not data from Ecovidrio but from the Ministry) and it is 65.8% (according to the new method). In the calculation of this official rate, Ecovidrio contributes around 80% of the data that make it up. However, the Ministry draws on other sources (for example, glass packaging from Sigre or other independent operators). It is possible that they have not taken these data into account.

In any case, Ecovidrio publishes the selective collection of each and every municipality in Spain on its website, and local administrations have it in a dashboard on a quarterly basis. Certainly, our interlocutors have always highlighted the reliability of the data and our transparency.

Glass recycling is often presented as ‘bottle to bottle,’ but what percentage of recycled material is typically used to make a new glass bottle?

A glass container can contain more than 90% recycled cullet. It depends a lot on the availability of cullet that the glass furnaces have at that time to replace it with raw material from nature. The important thing is that everything that is recycled in Spain is converted into cullet in Spain and is fully consumed for the production of new packaging in the peninsula (mostly in Spain, but also somewhat in Portugal).

The glass industry is eager to incorporate more cullet instead of raw material from nature because it reduces energy consumption and emissions. The more we recycle, the more they will consume.

Additionally, it should be noted that Spain is a net exporter of glass packaging: both empty for filling outside our country and filled with national food and beverage products that are highly regarded outside our borders.

The European Parliament recently approved the proposal for the new packaging and packaging waste regulation. How do you assess it from Ecovidrio’s perspective?

We share the need to continue advancing in improving the circularity of packaging, as well as including measures for its prevention, for the continuous improvement of its eco-design, and for maximizing its recyclability. In view of the complex negotiations of the trilogue between the Commission, Parliament, and Council, we believe that the commitment of the European institutions to the sectors involved in waste management (managers, producers, recyclers, etc.) is crucial, as well as proportionality and prudence in the measures that are ultimately agreed upon and in the deadlines required for their implementation. It is essential for the sectors involved to know with sufficient advance notice the obligations that the new European regulatory framework on packaging will impose and to have sufficient time to comply. The proposal contemplates leaving it up to the Member States.

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