Confused about Glass not being Recyclable?
Join the club!
Yes, glass is a recyclable product, but…
The current problem in local curbside programs is due to the difficulty of separating glass from the other items in your recycling bin or bag.
Unfortunately, glass breaks, it just does. Although the glass needs to be broken at some point in the sorting process in order to separate it from other recyclable materials via a screener at the sorting facilities, glass that breaks during collection can contaminate other recyclable materials along the way. To see how recycling material is sorted and recovered at a material recovery facility, check out this video.
"...the machines can’t un-grind glass shards from the fibers of a cardboard box or pick tiny bits of paper and plastic from piles of half-broken glass. “By the time the so-called glass gets to glass processing facility, it’s really glass mixed with 30 to 50 percent other stuff, which is trash,” Collins said.
(Susan Collins is the executive director of the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute; quote taken from “The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End”, FiveThirtyEight; Jan 20, 2019
Credit to ZeroWasteZone blog, Nov 6, 2016
The picture above shows the glass mix that gets separated from other recycling. It’s clearly not just glass, but a mix of glass and a lot of small pieces of plastic and paper.
Why are some areas in Erie County still “recycling” glass?
The truth is, some waste and recycling haulers are still allowing glass to be placed in curbside recycling bins, but that doesn’t mean it is being truly recycled. In order for a material to be truly “recycled”, it must be completely broken down, melted, pelletized, etc and made into a brand NEW material. When a material is just used in a different way, it is actually “Re-Used.”
Customers of Waste Management, ProWaste, and Raccoon Refuse will notice that glass is no longer allowed in recycling bins. Advanced Disposal and Tri County Industries do still allow glass in their customers’ recycling bins. The difference is where the recyclables are being shipped for separation and processing. Those companies still allowing glass in recycling bins are using a facility based in Buffalo, NY, which is mandated by NY state law to collect glass with other recycling. They are still having the same contamination problems as facilities in Pennsylvania; however, they must still continue accepting the glass, whether they can find a way to have it recycled or not. Because the facility in NY is not able to market the separated glass as a recyclable product, it is being re-used as a road aggregate instead. While this is better than just throwing the glass out as garbage, it is important to understand that re-using an item is not the same as recycling it into a new product.
What are we expected to do with our glass?
In most communities that are no longer accepting glass in recycling bins or bags, there are few options. The easiest would be to place it in with your regular household trash. Another option is to save it until there is a viable option for glass recycling in Erie County, which local researchers are currently investigating.
Another recommendation we offer to local residents who are upset by the loss of glass recycling is to consider purchasing less glass based items in order to reduce the amount of glass that needs to be sent to a landfill, or find a reuse option for their glass jars and bottles. With time, we hope to find a way to accept and recycle glass again in the future. But until we find a way to do that, we all need to make changes in our everyday lives when it comes to purchasing and disposing of glass items.