Measuring the Success of a Glass Recycling Program
Local and state recycling programs assess their performance and success based on tonnage of recyclables collected.
Over the past year, recycling industry stakeholders and governments have taken a renewed interest in how recycling and recovery rates are measured for packaging, including glass containers and other recyclable materials. This is motivated by an overall decline in the value of recyclable commodities, coupled with lower global demand, which has led some recycling and waste hauling companies to reevaluate recycling results.
Recycling and solid waste reduction goals, all based on weight and ranging from 25-75%, have been established in 41 states. Some cities have similar, complementary goals, including Austin, Texas; Dallas, Texas; Los Angeles, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; San Francisco, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; New York, N.Y.; Seattle, Wash.; and Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Leaders in these cities understand the value of increasing their recycling rates, providing valued recycled materials for manufacturing, and decreasing landfill disposal rates and associated costs.
Since it has been measured, local and state recycling programs assess their performance and success based on tonnage of recyclables collected. This uniform, weight-based metric is easily translated across recycling programs. Measurement by weight also provides the clearest indication of how much glass, paper, plastic, aluminum and steel are being recycled. Measuring recycling by weight is also helpful when contrasting the amount of solid waste headed to landfills, which is also measured by the ton. Cities and municipalities often pay privately held landfill operators per ton of solid waste disposed. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides national data on packaging generation, recycling, and landfill disposal based on weight. While the EPA’s national reports can be improved to better classify end markets for recyclables collected, they provide a valuable index for the entire recycling supply chain to understand and improve on current efforts. Understanding the effectiveness of recycling programs on a weight-based scale is critical to measuring their success.
Over the past year, newer models for recyclable materials management and evaluation have emerged. These models incorporate metrics that analyze the greenhouse gas benefits of recyclables collected, company cost to sort and process recyclables, and end market value. While it may be helpful to understand the lifecycle and energy use associated with specific recyclables, these models are not transferrable from city to city, or state to state. End markets for recyclables can vary by geography, as can the “commodity value” of a particular recyclable, along with specific investments made in the chain.
These metrics may lead to recommendations that encourage landfilling of perfectly recyclable packaging, simply because not enough greenhouse gas reductions are achieved in the recycling process regardless of the significant energy benefits provided. For every recyclable package landfilled, manufacturers, both domestic and overseas, are forced to mine further for raw materials. For the glass container industry, this means additional use of soda ash, sand and limestone, which often need to travel accross several states in order to reach the glass container plant to replace recycled glass lost to landfilling.
GPI is working in partnership with all stakeholders to ensure that recycling metrics reflect the demand for recycled glass by industry. This includes glass recycling measurements that remain consistent with goals set out by communities and states across the country.
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.