The pioneering LIFE MEIGLASS project upgraded a factory to convert the waste fraction of recycled glass bottles into raw materials for the glass container, ceramics and bricks industries.
Recycling forms part of the strategy outlined in the new EU Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe as a tool to promote more sustainable practices in consumption and production. The Roadmap observes that, “on average only 40% of our solid waste is re-used or recycled, the rest going to landfill or incineration..[but]...in some Member States more than 80% of waste is recycled, indicating the possibilities of using waste as one of the EU’s key resources.”
It continues, “Improving waste management makes better use of resources and can open up new markets and jobs, as well as encourage less dependence on imports of raw materials and lower impacts on the environment. If waste is to become a resource to be fed back into the economy as a raw material, then much higher priority needs to be given to re-use and recycling.
While recycling of glass bottles is a long-established practice in Europe, recycled glass producers also generate significant waste. Some 23-25% of glass from public collection points is rejected by the glass container industry and sent to landfill because of impurities in the cullet (the technical name for crushed waste glass that is ready to be remelted into new bottles etc).
In 2003 the Italian company SASIL SpA, however, began trials of a new process that would result in significant resource efficiencies. SASIL's aimed to clean the reject cullet and then grind and sieve it into pieces of 70-800 microns which could be melted without problems during glass container manufacturing.
In the framework of their LIFE MEIGLASS project (LIFE06 ENV/IT/000332), SASIL received an EU grant of €1 143 523, which made an essential contribution to the project’s overall cost of €6 065 043. LIFE funds were used to help upgrade the company’s facilities in order to facilitate implementation of the new resource-efficient process on an industrial scale. A new water purification plant was also constructed offering further resource efficiency benefits.
The new LIFE-funded plant allows the company to recycle 90% of its process water, greatly reducing the need for fresh water during glassy sand manufacturing (just 10% process water lost through evaporation must be replaced).
Most significantly though, LIFE support has been used to optimise the technical quality not only of glassy sand, but also of two other products generated by the process of cleaning and grinding of dirty cullet - 'ceramic sand' and 'brick sand'.
LIFE MEIGLASS has generated significant environmental benefits. These include a reduction in the amount of cullet going to landfill of some 20 truck loads per day (from 25% to 2%). The 180 000 tonnes/year of waste cullet now reused by SASIL means that 300 000 tonnes/year less material needs to be mined for the glass container industry, a significant raw material saving.
Furthermore, every tonne of glassy sand used in the furnace saves 300 kg of CO2. This means in 2008, SASIL helped the container industry avoid generating 43 500 tonnes of CO2, equivalent to taking 26 000 cars with a Euro 4 engine off the road for a year.
Results of the MEIGLASS project have been widely disseminated, with several articles in technical journals and local newspapers, and presentations at events in Croatia, Finland and even Vietnam (by project partner Joanneum Research), as well as in Italy.