Lynn Bragg

Ninety-five percent of residents with glass recycling in their communities want continued collection, and 90 percent believe it’s important to recycle rather than send materials to the landfill. Those findings from a 2016 nationwide poll by SurveyUSA reaffirmed the strong public support for glass recycling.

Further, a large majority of U.S. residents are able to recycle glass. The June 2016 Centralized Availability of Recycling Study by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition found that 81 percent of U.S. residents with access to recycling programs are able to recycle glass containers.

And the market demand for quality recycled glass remains strong. The glass container and fiberglass industries purchase about 3.2 million tons of recycled glass annually to supply over 70 U.S. manufacturing plants.

While these facts have all remained constant for glass recycling, the broader recycling industry has taken a hit since 2010. Significant commodity price fluctuations and an increasingly diverse recycling stream have challenged the economics of processing for highest quality. Glass containers are in the spotlight in some communities because they have now become a larger part of the recycling stream by weight and require more dedicated processing.

GPISeeing the need for sustainable solutions for glass recycling, the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI) initiated efforts with recycling processors, customer groups, communities, and other partners across the entire supply chain to do that.

Working with MRFs in North Carolina

The initial focus investigated single-stream materials recovery facility (MRF) operations to understand the challenges and opportunities for glass recycling as well as best practices. To pilot-test a few of these, GPI joined the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, along with two single-stream MRFs, to invest in equipment and technology for improving glass quality. The state is home to three glass container manufacturing plants and two glass processing facilities.

Others are also taking advantage of unique financing opportunities to strengthen glass recycling. The Closed Loop Fund provided a low-interest loan to a MRF operated by Illinois-based Lakeshore Recycling Systems to boost its glass cleaning line. Meanwhile, Momentum Recycling in Colorado and Utah received a loan to support an innovative business model for high-quality glass processing.

In addition, working with our glass container industry customers and key segments of the glass recycling supply chain, GPI formed the Glass Recycling Coalition (GRC). This unique partnership is creating a strong foundation for glass recycling. The GRC is building an interactive decision matrix for communities and will work with them to find solutions for glass recycling, including demonstration projects.

In July, for example, the GRC partnered with Georgia Recycling Coalition and GPI to gather over 80 stakeholders and municipal representatives in Macon, Ga. to dispel misinformation about a lack of recycled glass markets and explore solutions for glass recovery. With three glass container plants, three fiberglass plants and two processing facilities, Georgia is a state where glass recycling can work.

Setting out a separate bin

One model in Georgia can be seen in the City of Decatur. When faced with the removal of glass from recycling, the City surveyed its residents and found over 90 percent of respondents wanted to keep recycling glass, even for a small fee. Residents now set out a separate bin for glass at curbside. Following the Summit, DeKalb County announced plans to add a dozen more glass recycling drop-off locations.

More work needs to be done on creative financing models for MRF equipment to improve glass quality, alternative collections options for glass recycling, and targeted community efforts.

Join with us to make glass recycling work.

Lynn Bragg is president of the Glass Packaging Institute. She can be contacted at [email protected].

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Resource Recycling, Inc. If you have a subject you wish to cover in a future Op-Ed, please send a short proposal to [email protected] for consideration.