The cost of transporting, sorting and storing recyclable glass adds a layer of complexity that most municipalities don’t want to (or can’t) deal with. Glass is heavy, which means it’s expensive to transport, and there is more supply than demand for glass, recycled glass and crushed glass, called cullet.
Anchorage, AK is one municipality that’s trying to change the outcome for much of the city’s glass containers. According to city workers, Anchorage – a city of just about 300,000 people – collects about 1,200 tons of glass continers each year. Like many other cities, they don’t allow curbside collection of glass. Anchorage doesn’t have a local reclamation facility, so it bundles its recyclables and sends them off to Washington State. Adding glass into the mix would add significant weight, which would increase transportation costs and diminish already-thin returns.
Instead, glass is collected in three aggregating facilities around the city and retained. The State of Alaska has recently permitted construction projects to use 100% crushed glass as backfill on water and sewer pipe projects, and it can be used as a backfill component for other construction projects. In addition, finely crushed glass can be used like sand to create traction on snow-covered walkways and parking lots.
Other cities like Knoxville, TN have just eliminated glass from their single-stream curbside recycling programs. According to city officials, glass collection is logistically difficult and much of the collected glass ends up being broken at their facility. Broken glass is hard to handle and can damage the sorting equipment that’s the backbone of a single-stream recycling program. In addition, it’s virtually impossible to find buyers for mixed-color glass.
Roswell, GA has agreed to pay its curbside collector an additional $10,000 per month for the next six months to continue picking up container glass. For many cities, glass recycling has gone from being a revenue stream to being an expense. It’s one they’re unlikely to bear for very long.
Cities continue to cope with the demand by residents that glass be included in recycling programs, even when it’s difficult to find buyers for the resulting product. Many cities are crushing the glass to use it as landfill cover. Others are simply landfilling the product to free storage space at their reclamation facilities. A growing number of cities are simply not accepting glass into their recycling streams at all.
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