From Iceland — Ask An Expert: Why Isn’t Glass Recycled In Iceland?

Ask An Expert: Why Isn’t Glass Recycled In Iceland?

Ask An Expert: Why Isn’t Glass Recycled In Iceland?

Published June 3, 2022

Photo by
Jasmin Sessler/Unsplash

The majority of apartment buildings in Reykjavík only have trash bins for mixed waste, plastic, and paper. “Where do wine bottles go?”—wonder those coming from other places. This question has puzzled Grapevine’s expat journalists for months, too. We reached out to Jamie Valleau McQuilkin, Research and Development Manager at environmental consultancy ReSource, to help us find an answer

According to Jamie, glass is more of a hassle to recycle than other materials, such as aluminium. In addition, it needs to be sorted by colour. The problem of recycling glass wouldn’t be resolved simply by putting a glass container next door—at least three glass bins would be required, as well as different recycling techniques for broken and mixed glass. “Making new glass containers is a big process—in the U.S., there’s around one glass container plant for every 4 million people,” Jamie explains.

Jamie Valleau McQuilkin, Research and Development Manager at environmental consultancy ReSource

“In Iceland, it seems like the economics don’t favour glass being re-manufactured locally and it is expensive to export—this is probably why it isn’t collected from households. However, drinks bottles are collected for a deposit refund at recycling centres and other glass can be left there too. For many years, much of this was then smashed and used in construction, notably for the foundations of the GAJA biogas plant at Álfsnes landfill,” points out Jamie, adding: “Starting from this summer, significant amounts of glass will start to be exported.”

Still, Jamie believes a lot more could be done: “Why are glass bottles not reused locally in Iceland, as is commonly done in Germany, Denmark and other countries? Coca-Cola, Ölgerðin and small breweries produce a lot of drinks, and it seems like it would make a lot of sense—in terms of economics and resource use—to use the bottle deposit scheme to incentivise the reuse of drinks containers.” 

Jamie asserts the problem with recycling glass in Iceland could be approached better. He sums it up: “If you can’t reduce, then reuse—and only then recycle.”

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