Kiss My Glass

The truth about glass recycling

Wait a minute. Columbus recently spent $8.5 million building a new recycling facility where glass is no longer accepted?

That’s right. Picking up my blue bin from the curb on Monday, this announcement drifted out of the container:

The truth about glass recycling

Turns out, glass was never recycled there because it wears the machinery down and comes with all manner of safety issues. Instead, it was separated and sold by the city. Now that market has evaporated, and recycling costs are 30 times more than the revenue generated.

This isn’t just a Columbus phenomenon. Other communities including Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, have ditched glass recycling as well.

Why is this happening?

A couple of reasons. First, falling oil prices have made virgin plastic materials cheaper to use than their recycled glass counterparts.

But why has the process of recycling glass — a product that can be efficiently and endlessly reused with no loss in quality — become so expensive? That brings us to the second point. As is often the case with complicated environmental issues, we are partly to blame:

“Now what comes with the glass are rocks, shredded paper, chicken bones people left in their takeout containers, and hypodermic needles,” Mr. [Curt] Bucey [executive vice-president of Strategic Materials Inc.] said. The company has had to invest in expensive machinery to separate the glass from the trash, then has to dispose of the garbage, making recycling a much costlier equation.

As someone who used to coordinate events at a nature center, I can testify to the head-smacking amount of refuse that folks blindly toss into recycling stations, and I don’t doubt the added cost of garbage disposal.

But what’s the alternative for responsible citizens, who don’t want to throw bottles and jars in the trash can?

It’s time to institute the fourth R: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse. If we all avoid packaging in the first place, then recycling becomes a moo point.

Hubby and I are as guilty as anyone, so into the kitchen I went, surveying the pantry and refrigerator for our own sources of disposable glass. Three culprits became clear:

  • beer
  • club soda
  • sauces like wooster worster worcestershire and soy

Sorry, Gaia, I’m not giving up the one bottle of worstetshushire we buy each year. But building a carbonator just got bumped up on the priority list, and no more forgetting our refillable growlers when we pick up groceries at the weekend farmer’s market. There’s no excuse for wasting landfill space with beer bottles when regional craft brews are a tap-pull away.

So save us a seat at the counter, Maltitude. We’ll be there bright and early Saturday morning.

All in the name of saving the planet, of course.

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