You might think that glass is as simple to recycle as paper and plastic, but the fact of the matter is that it has become a major problem as of late. Many waste management experts have reported the issues over the past few years, but little has been done to remedy the situation. Now, one question remains – what will it take to make glass recycling a guaranteed choice?
The problem with glass
One of the biggest problems surrounding the recycling of glass is that it takes an ample amount of money to handle the material at landfills, according to the Wall Street Journal
. A number of cities, including Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Charleston, West Virginia, are finding it more cost effective to not
recycle glass. In turn, they have begun encouraging residents to toss their glass items, rather than recycle them – but why?
To uncover some of the underlying issues, the Wall Street Journal turned to Curt Bucey, the executive vice president of Strategic Materials, Inc. His company is the largest glass-recycling company in the U.S. He told the news source that about 20 years ago, his business would receive 98 percent glass and 2 percent excess, such as bottle gaps and paper labels. These days, he gets as much as 50 percent trash – where is all of the glass?
The bottom line is that while many people are recycling their glass products, they are also giving trash and non-recyclables to companies like Strategic Materials. Bucey said his team finds everything from chicken bones to hypodermic needles in the glass it receives. It takes time to go through the glass and remove the excess, and time equals money.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
found that in 2012, the country recycled 64.6 percent of paper products. However, Americans only recycled 27.7 percent of the 11.6 million tons of glass they generated.
Handling glass at waste management facilities
There’s no question that glass is a tough solid product. As a result, this can cause problems for recycling facilities that are designed to crush and break down materials, according to Waste Management World
Material Recovery Facilities, or MRFs, traditionally target paper, aluminum, plastic and steel for recycling purposes. However, they have also taken up glass, despite the challenges associated with breaking it down. In some instances, the crushing of glass can increase wear on machinery by 100 percent. Additionally, dated separation techniques have made it challenging to remove glass from products such as paper and plastic.
However, technology is finally catching up to recycling practices. One UK-based company, Krystelline, has developed a new method called “implosion” for glass recycling. This process separates and extracts glass from other recyclables without revaluing other materials.
“Implosion” works by exposing glass to a high frequency – think of when a high-pitch sound hits a wine glass and causes it to shatter. This would free glass pieces from the rest of recyclable materials. Furthermore, it does not grind or mill the glass, which means machinery would not be impacted by the process of breaking it down.
The “implosion” process has been around since the 1990s, but it is still being explored as a viable option at glass recycling facilities in the UK.
Recycling glass regularly
Luckily, glass is 100 percent recyclable and can be made into other materials, according to the Glass Packaging Institute
(GPI). On top of that, more than one ton of natural resources is saved for every ton of glass recycled. Now the question is how to do it efficiently without causing more harm than good.
First, it’s worth looking at the previously stated recycling rates. Less than 28 percent of glass was recycled by Americans in 2012, according to the EPA. Encouraging Americans at the local level to recycle glass is essential to boosting this percentage. For example, redemption programs have been proven to increase glass recycling in the past. Not only do people gain a few cents for their glass bottles, but they ensure they are going to the right waste management company.
Next, it’s important to educate the general population on how to recycle glass properly. Just like plastics, glass needs to be separated according to your local waste management company’s regulations. This decreases the risk of contamination and makes sure that all glass items make it to the proper place.
Finally, it’s critical to understand how contamination is negatively impacting the glass recycling effort. As Bucey explained to the Wall Street Journal, contamination in the form of paper labels, food and other waste products is hindering companies’ efforts to recycle glass. Not only does it take time and money, but it reduces the overall efficiency of recycling this material.
In order to ensure your family is taking the correct steps to recycle glass, educate your entire household – especially children – on the importance of separating trash from glass in your home. You may even want to designate a bin just for glass to keep everything in its proper place.
Taking the time to remove paper labels and food from glass products is also essential. Although it may take a few moments, doing so can ensure your glass recycling efforts don’t go to waste.
In total, 34 percent of all glass containers were recycled in 2013, according to the GPI
. Nearly 41 percent of beer and soft drink bottles were recovered, according to the EPA, as well as 34 percent of wine and liquor bottles. Although recycling glass continues to be a dicey process, more Americans are learning about what they can do to help with the initiative. As the word spreads, glass recycling may one day evolve into an easy decision for Americans to make when they have a glass product on hand.
Until then, there is still work to be done. These tips can help you and your family drive the effort to make glass an easier product to recycle in the future.