Ever wondered where glass bottles go after they are collected in large green bins that are distributed across the city of Hong Kong?
Glass bottle recycling has a long history in Hong Kong. One of the earliest solutions was the depsoit-and-refund method where beverage retailers are incentivised by drinks manufacturers to collect and return glass bottles to be cleaned and reused. However, as local beverage manufacturing gradually move away from the city making recovery of bottles more expensive, increasingly more glass bottles end up in landfills.
In the early 2000’s, a local research and development effort was successful in turning recycled glass into pavement bricks. The government now has a scheme to collect glass bottles to be recycled in such a way. While the government continues to promote and facilitate the expansion of additional applications for recycled glass, there remains a lot of questions and doubts about the details of how glass recycling—primarily the collection process—can be implemented.
Glass bottles must be collected in a certain way, where they are rinsed, sorted out from other trash, and without breakage. The collected glass bottles are later crushed into sand-like cullets for brick production. Any contamination of the cullets would render the treatment process abortive.
So one of the questions is then how can the government make the collection and transportation process of recycled glass bottles more efficient and safe?
Research & Ideation
We conducted online research to gain local and international perspectives on the issue. Focus groups were conducted with local residence to gauge the level of awareness and engagement. Interviews were made with bar owners, workers, and cleaners, as well as vendors and suppliers of bottle crushing equipment. We also shadowed staff and volunteers during glass recycling, photographing and video recording the process. We even tried and tested bottle crushing machines for ourselves.
The insights we collected can be summarised with the following points:
- The majority of 200 tons of glass that are dumped per day are from bars and restaurants;
- the city is not doing enough while less than 5% of glass are recycled;
- moving bottles and storing them can be a public nuisance;
- it is also hard on staff and volunteers;
- the economics for recycling glass is bad where used glass has little to no commercial value; and
- there is generally a lack of knowledge about glass recycling and appreciation of those involved.
We believe that the crushing of glass bottles close to the point of consumption can help ease logistics costs, reduce storage requirements, lower carbon footprint, improve safety, and reduce the problems of noise & hygiene.
An awareness campaign called CRUSH is proposed. It centres around a roving public exhibition of glass crushing, where visitors can crush bottles, create art from glass-sand and learn more about the impact the initiative can have on our lives. Entry will be exclusive to those that bring a bottle to crush and prizes will be awarded to the most creative glass-sand artists in various categories.
The objectives of this campaign are to demonstrate that:
- crushed glass is non-toxic and safe to handle;
- the process of glass crushing is fast, safe, very simple, and even fun;
- glass crushing can help to make glass recycling more economically viable;
- glass crushing is quieter than moving bottles and that crushing can help improve hygiene and reduce the number of trucks on our roads;
- glass crushing can drastically reduce the carbon footprint of glass recycling while also reducing roadside pollution; and
- bring the issues of glass bottle recycling to the public’s attention in a broad and engaging way.