Survey Underscores Desire for Successful Glass Recycling Programs
Understanding opportunities and challenges for glass recycling is vital to strengthen existing programs and to develop new initiatives.
This spring, the Glass Recycling Coalition (GRC) surveyed 250 public-sector officials, materials recovery facility (MRFs) operators and glass industry representatives to gain insight on the state of glass recycling. As glass container manufacturers purchase nearly 2.4 million tons of recycled glass each year, and communities begin to closely examine glass and other recycling programs, understanding opportunities and challenges for glass recycling is vital to strengthen existing programs and to develop new initiatives.
The biggest takeaway from the GRC survey results is the respondents’ overwhelming desire to maintain and develop successful glass recycling programs. 96% of respondents said that their customers and residents expect to be able to recycle glass either through curbside collection or drop-off bins.
Nearly half of public-sector respondents (those individuals often in charge of developing or overseeing recycling programs) indicated that their community collects glass via curbside recycling, and more than 60% have drop-off bins available for their residents to recycle glass. These same respondents ranked bottle-to-bottle recycling as the preferred end market, followed by fiberglass and road base aggregate. Not surprisingly, using recycled glass as alternative daily cover at the landfill and simple landfill disposal came in as the least preferred ways to dispose of glass.
Public-sector respondents identified their top three priorities for recycling as resident satisfaction, meeting sustainability goals and reducing contamination (see Figure 1). Less important to them were greenhouse gas emissions reductions when recyclables are used, as well as illegal dumping and revenues received from their recycling programs.
Materials Recovery Operations
Of the 31 survey respondents who own or work for materials recovery facilities (MRFs), 62% say they operate and sort glass out from other recyclables through a single-stream program. Only 4% do not accept glass in their facilities, and nearly 25% separate glass by color before it heads to a glass processor for end market use.
While the majority of the MRF respondents sell at least some of their glass to bottle and fiberglass end markets, transportation costs to reach these markets are a key factor. Alternative daily cover and simple landfill disposal are the MRF respondents’ least-desired options, as they often incur additional costs to their companies and customers.
Opportunities and Challenges
While public-sector respondents indicated a clear desire to continue glass recycling for their residents, 65% expressed some concerns with their programs. These were related to few or no end markets nearby, contamination issues, and cost-effectiveness. For example, transportation costs that exceed revenue and/or landfill tipping fee are a concern.
Nearly 74% of public-sector respondents believe that public and private partnerships, along with state grants, to improve recycling should be employed. To help finance recycling programs, half of public-sector respondents believe the cost should be shared between markets, packaging industries, cities/counties, MRFs, and residents.
To take action on some of the challenges identified by survey respondents, the GRC created a “decision-making” tool, available for free on its website. The tool guides local decision-makers through a series of resources in response to any number of program challenges. It is complemented by “best-case” studies, links to grant funding and partnership opportunities to strengthen glass recycling.
For MRF operators, the GRC offers a guide to best practices for recovering and selling recycled glass to end markets. The newly approved “three-mix” glass specification is also available on the website, which provides clear parameters to MRFs for securing the most value from the glass sorted.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.