Each week I am asked by a member of our community why we don’t recycle glass. I found a great letter by Debbie Brady (Sanitation Department) to the people of Pocatello, Idaho. If I had to write a letter to the people of LIFE it would read much like this.
Not a day goes by that I don’t get asked why glass isn’t collected with the City of Pocatello ‘s recycling program. The City initially had a drop off glass recycling program in 1991. It was discontinued when the cost of collection and transportation to the markets exceeded the value. This is still true today. Our local recycle companies do not accept glass for recycling because 1) there isn’t a local market; and 2) it is too expensive to ship due to the weight. In addition with the co-mingled curbside recycling program, there is a concern that the glass will break during the collection process and contaminate the rest of the recycle materials collected.
I also want to share some additional insight into the issues of glass recycling. During the months of September through December last year, a feasibility study was conducted by the City’s Division of Science and Environment on the potential to develop a glass recycling program within the community. Ultimately, the study determined that no effort should be taken at this time until a more consistent and stable local market for the use of recycled glass cullet exists. Further, the study also revealed the need to conduct more extensive research on the possibility of developing a glass recycling program, complete with a thorough quantitative analysis to gain full perspective of the potential for such a program.
The thing about glass is that glass is made from sand so it is not going to hurt the air, the land, and the water. It takes up space – that’s it. So you have to calculate the cost and the environmental impact of making new glass versus the cost of recycling old glass to turn it into new. Many people argue that the carbon footprint of the trucks and equipment used to collect, store, handle, sort, ship and process glass into new bottles negates most, if not all, of the environmental benefits of recycling glass.
When comparing the environmental benefit of recycling, glass is dead last among all common recyclables. It takes 23 glass bottles with a total weight of 10 pounds to deliver the same environmental benefit as recycling 6 empty aluminum cans with a weight of 3 ounces, or a pound of newspaper, plastic or tin. This is due to the cost of processing/shipping and the carbon footprint associated with the collection and distribution. A community’s proximity to optical sorting and glass manufacturing facilities plays a key role in calculating the return on investment in managing glass.
The City’s Sanitation Department is concerned about the amount of trash that is disposed of in the landfill. As a result, we are always willing to look at cost effective, long term solutions to the disposal of glass. There may come a time when recycling glass is feasible for us and our local recycling companies, but it probably won’t be in the near future.