After several years of uncertainty around glass recycling in our community, the announcement finally came from Gwinnett County Government on June 5, 2018 that glass would be removed from the single-stream curbside recycling program effective July 1. In the announcement, the county indicated that options for residents in unincorporated Gwinnett to dispose of glass are now to take it to a drop-off site for recycling, or to put it in regular household trash headed for the landfill.
Here’s the problem: Glass doesn’t belong in the landfill. And for most of the 750,000 citizens of unincorporated Gwinnett, a drop-off location for glass is at least a 30-minute drive away.
In a county of more than 400 square miles, we currently have one glass recycling drop-off center that’s open to the public, the Snellville Recycling Center that’s generously run by the City. The other nearest publicly accessible drop-off locations for glass, per Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful and our own research, are in Atlanta, Decatur, Conyers, Sandy Springs, Roswell, Alpharetta, and Smyrna. Even without traffic, these are all long drives from most areas of Gwinnett.
In the absence of establishing separate curbside collection or convenient glass recycling drop-off centers within the county, Gwinnett County leaders are effectively telling citizens to landfill this infinitely recyclable material that currently comprises 20% of our household waste. At a time when the global problems associated with the waste we produce are reaching crisis levels, this isn’t an option.
Why Is Glass Hard to Recycle?
So, how did glass end up in this situation? While glass is very recyclable, it doesn’t get along well with single-stream curbside recycling — a model that Gwinnett and many other communities nationwide shifted to in the last decade for convenience and cost savings.
Over the past six years, the quality of materials received by recycling processors has decreased because of the fact that many areas have told residents to mix glass (which often shatters) with other recyclable materials. According to Waste360.com, “The problems begin with the collection process, where glass breaks when it is placed in collection vehicles. With single-stream programs, broken glass is mixed up with tons of other recyclables and is difficult to sort. At recycling centers glass is hard on equipment, creating wear on conveyor belts, screens, and other moving parts. Quality issues are another concern of the recycling manager. As paper and cardboard mills become more stringent on quality, buyers of used fiber will pay significantly less for materials containing crushed glass.”
Glass Recycling Is Great for the Environment
The only problem with glass is how we’ve chosen to collect it and process it in recent years, not with the material itself. That jar of jelly or bottle of wine in your pantry or refrigerator is 100% recyclable. In fact, glass containers for food and beverages are actually among the best materials for recycling. In the creation of new glass containers, recycled glass can be substituted for up to 95% of raw materials, which cuts energy consumption dramatically and reduces emissions of pollutants that can lead to smog, acid rain, and the contamination of waterways. Glass is nontoxic and can be recycled again and again endlessly, unlike other materials like plastic or paper, which have limited recycling lifespans.
By keeping glass out of the dump, we do a service for the environment, the economy, and future generations. Glass takes more than one million years to decompose and occupies a lot of space in landfills, filling them up quickly even after being crunched to bits.
Glass Recycling Is Great for Georgia’s Economy
The economic reasons to support glass recycling are just as strong. More than 1,000 Georgians are employed by companies that make over $1 billion worth of products with recycled glass. Products from brands like Snapple, Anheuser-Busch, and Owens-Corning are made with recycled glass in Georgia. Nationwide, glass recycling is a $5.5 billion dollar industry tied to 18,000 American jobs. Simply put, the more we recycle, the more we grow our economy. The reverse is true as well. It’s not a stretch to say that sending glass to landfills can lead to fewer jobs.
In the container glass and fiberglass insulation industries, demand for recycled glass actually outpaces current supply. Today, manufacturers in Georgia are importing 2,000 tons per month of recycled glass from North Carolina to meet their needs, when they could be getting that material right here in Gwinnett County.
It’s amazing how recycling a bottle or jar can help keep your house warm in the winter, or create another product that’s on a grocery store shelf in as little as 30 days without having to mine the natural environment.
What Should Gwinnett County Do?
In the absence of citizen input, Gwinnett County made their decision to remove glass from the single-stream curbside recycling program. But they still have the opportunity to make the right choice to enable residents to recycle glass. Nearby communities like Norcross, Snellville, Decatur, Alpharetta, and DeKalb County have been proactive about glass recycling. DeKalb County last summer opened 15 county-operated glass recycling sites conveniently located across the community, partnering with North America’s largest glass recycler that has a major recycling plant in Atlanta. The City of Decatur and the City of Alpharetta recently responded to feedback solicited from citizens by moving to provide separate curbside collection for glass. Gwinnett County Government needs to bring citizens to the table and consider similar solutions.
Please make your voice heard: Call the Gwinnett Solid Waste Call Center (770-822-7141) and your commissioner (770-822-7000) to let them know you support glass recycling and want to see similar solutions in Gwinnett.
In the meantime, if you can, make the extra effort to collect your glass bottles and jars and bring them to local drop-off sites, such as the Snellville Recycling Center (2531 Marigold Road, Snellville), the DeKalb Farmers Market (3000 East Ponce De Leon Avenue, Decatur), or Atlanta’s Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (1110 Hill Street, Atlanta). Together, our efforts add up.
Note: Though glass containers for food and beverages are 100% recyclable, this does not include other types of glass, including windows, ovenware, Pyrex, crystal, etc. If these materials are introduced into the glass container manufacturing process, they can cause production problems and defective containers.