It might be hard to believe, but once upon a time, glass was the king of recycling and one of the more desirable commodities. After all, it can be recycled infinite times without loss of quality, and everybody uses glass bottles and jars.
But today, the scenario has switched, and glass lives at the bottom of the recycling food chain. Many MRFs (materials recycling facilities) have stopped taking glass or are considering it. Why the shift? For starters, while there is an ample supply of recycled glass and processors that can use it in Pennsylvania, they say there’s not a good infrastructure for transporting the material between the two. The basic material used in making glass – sand – is readily available, so it doesn’t take much to stack it in favor of using virgin material. On top of that, using recycled glass saves about 20 percent of the energy of using virgin material; while this is enough to justify recycling, it doesn’t compare to other recycled materials such as aluminum cans, which saves 95 percent of the energy of using virgin.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the downfall of glass is the emergence of single stream recycling systems. Everybody loves their convenience because you can throw everything into a single container, including glass. But glass doesn’t actually work well with single stream. If you try to move it on conveyors for processing and separation from other materials, it shatters, and pieces of glass become dangerous projectiles. Single stream processors sort the glass from the recycling stream as early as possible and do what they can to get rid of it. It’s usually a hodge-podge of many materials mixed in with shards of glass.
The local situation with glass came into view recently when Lycoming County Resource Management Service (LCRMS), who picks up loads of recyclables from our drop-offs and processes them at their facility in Montgomery, called us in for a meeting. It seems their vendor charges them for disposing of the glass from single stream and recently raised their price. On the other hand, they pay for glass that comes from source-separated drop-offs like ours, but they’ve lowered their price. In response, LCRMS considered dropping glass from their program, meaning we would have to stop taking glass at our drop-offs. But they stopped short of that and decided to increase the rates they charge singles stream haulers. They pointed out that the source-separated glass they get from drop-offs like ours goes to a plant in Pennsylvania and gets turned back into bottles - this works largely because we sort it by color.
LCRMS also pointed out that they’re seeing more contamination in source-separated glass. With the glass situation as tenuous as it is, they encourage residents to take some measures, which we second. For starters, only put glass bottles and jars in drop-off containers. NO ceramic cups, plates, drinking glasses, mirrors, window glass, ovenware (like Pyrex) or light bulbs, as these have different material characteristics from bottles and jars and aren’t compatible in recycling. Also, NO plastic bags, cardboard, or trash should go in with your glass. And they encourage single stream users to separate their glass out and take it to a source-separated drop-off.
Surveys show that some 92 percent of people want to keep glass in the recycling mix, so processors like us and LCRMS strive to keep it viable. With your help in sorting at our drop-offs or with single stream, we can continue to keep recycling it into the future. Thanks for your efforts.
Snyder County Recycling Coordinator
Snyder County Solid Waste Management Authority570-374-6889, x-115