Earlier this year, Houston joined the growing list of cities that no longer offers curbside recycling for container glass. It seems shocking because we’ve always been told that recycling glass is easy and environmentally conscious. It is, but why are cities like Houston, Marietta GA, Harrisburg, PA, Santa Fe, NM, Baton Rouge, LA and Charleston, SC turning away from collecting glass for recycling?
Recycling glass is problematic, costly
The reasons vary, but it all comes down to money. According to Pratt Industries, the recycler for Spartanburg and Greenville counties in South Carolina, glass is the most costly item to recycle and excluding glass from the recycling stream frees up space in the company’s storage and processing facilities for other recyclable materials.
The National Waste and Recycling Association says that the sorting requirements of glass, combined with its weight and other factors make glass the most likely candidate for elimination from recycling programs. Since glass does not break down or create any toxic byproducts, it can sit safely in a landfill in favor of other less environmentally friendly materials.
Complicating the matter further is the issue of labels. Container glass is frequently labeled with paper-and-glue labels, which tends to foul the recycling stream and requires additional handling. In addition, glass breaks, making it dangerous to handle and sort.
Houston, which recently signed a two-year recycling disposal contract with Waste Management, almost abandoned recycling altogether, after difficult contract negotiations. The city was pressured by a significant budget shortfall, and the city administration was not initially able to come to terms it felt the city could afford. By streamlining the curbside recycling program – including the omission of glass – the city was able to find an arrangement that works.
Despite changes to the curbside recycling program, Houston is still in the glass recycling game. The city maintains collection points where residents who are interested in recycling glass can bring their containers. As the fourth largest city in the US, however, the loss of an easy curbside recycling program for glass means that as many as 25 tons of glass will now end up in Houston’s landfills instead of in a recycling program.
Further complicating the glass recycling picture is the fact that the bottom is dropping out of the market for many recycled materials, including glass. Not being able to find buyers means that slim profit margins on glass are in danger of turning into losses for recyclers, and no one is willing to take on a losing proposition.
In the mean time, gaps in municipal glass recycling programs are being filled by third-parties, although environmentalists and glass manufacturers alike worry that the stream of recyclable glass will diminish – pushing the cost of virgin glass higher and redirecting a material that is infinitely recyclable into the waste stream instead.
Glass is truly infinitely recyclable and reusable. If you’d like ideas for decorating with glass, please check out the rest of our site. If you’d like to purchase Glassprimer™ glass paint, please visit our online store .
Photo Credit: Steven Goodwin, via FreeImages.com