Glass Works: Taking Stock of Glass Container Recycling
All entities in the supply chain need to work together to help improve the quality of the glass.
I recently attended a recycling conference, where I moderated a panel of speakers on the topic of managing glass containers in the recycling stream. The session proved a helpful overview on glass recycling, how to improve glass collection and processing, and ways to manage the challenges around glass container recycling.
Work Together to Upgrade Glass Recycling
Glass container recycling continues to have a “strong market,” according to Curt Bucey, president and chief operating officer of Houston-based Strategic Materials Inc., the largest glass recycler in North America. The need, however, is for all entities in the supply chain to work together to help improve the quality of the glass and get it in a positive value.
Susan Robinson, Waste Management’s director for Federal and State Public Affairs, echoed this need. “Everybody is really working to find out how we can make money off glass,” she said. She explained that the effort will involve working together, coupled with a full understanding of what can be done better. According to Robinson, it’s difficult with a downturn in the recycling market to make investments when Waste Management is struggling to keep the recycling industry moving forward.
Learn From “Best Practice” Models
Robinson also shared successful alternative collection options for glass containers that can serve as a model for regions that want to effectively recycle glass, outside of a single-stream recycling program. While these options can work well for some communities, it remains the position of the glass container industry that glass “stay in the bin” for established single-stream recycling programs.
For example, in Portland, Ore., while a container deposit system helps to recover clean glass bottles, glass is also collected in separate containers by separate trucks at the curb. While this method involves increased costs, it has minimized recycling challenges due to contamination, especially for recycled paper markets.
In Salt Lake City, residents can subscribe to receive glass recycling collection. For an additional $7 per month, residents can set out a 35-gal bin provided by Momentum Recycling, which then processes and markets the recycled glass. Separate drop-off locations are also provided for no additional fee.
Finally, Ripple Glass of Kansas City, Mo., collects recycled glass primarily at drop-off sites. In Kansas City alone, the 100 collection sites have boosted the glass recycling rate in the city from 5% in 2009 to 20% today. The company also hosts glass recycling collection sites throughout Jefferson City and Branson, Mo.; Lawrence, Kan.; and Omaha, Neb.
Improve the Glass Recycling Process
In order to address some of the challenges for clean glass recovery, the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) has engaged with a variety of partners over the past year. For example, the glass container industry is in ongoing dialogue with recycling collection and processing business groups, and has gathered targeted information from secondary processors and materials recovery facility (MRF) operators about specific challenges and best practices for glass recovery.
The GPI has also outreached directly to cities and municipalities that want to offer glass recycling to residents and make it feasible in their communities. To further assist communities, the GPI website has an extensive searchable map displaying glass manufacturers, recycled glass processors and recycling locations by geographic area.
Finally, the GPI is committed to moving forward to develop a MRF glass specification. According to Bucey, various colors of glass that were once a headache in the recycling industry are no longer problematic. The next target is to create an industry specification for the required output of MRFs regarding glass. This common definition will offer a next step on the path to improved glass container recycling.
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.