What’s Going On With Glass Recycling?

What’s Going On With Glass Recycling?
What’s Going On With Glass Recycling?

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.

Check out my interview with CBS46 about glass recycling in Gwinnett (video below) and see what we learned on a recent tour of a glass recycling plant.

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.

13 Comments

  • Andy L. Posted July 4, 2018 8:34 am

    While time consuming, and not cost effective, I’ve decided to contact each company that makes the products that we purchase (mostly local to Gwinnett) and have each if they would like “their” bottles back. Most are surprised that a consumer would do this, but this isn’t that far off what Americans did with milk a couple decades ago. Rather than recycle in the old sense of the word, I’ve decided to give the retailer a chance to have their actual bottle back at zero cost to them. We only have one Gwinnett County, and if there is anything I can do that helps both the retailers and our environment, then I’ll do it.

    Reply
    • Laura
      Laura Posted July 5, 2018 10:45 am

      Very interesting project! Please let us know how it goes!

      Reply
    • Jess Posted July 8, 2018 7:41 am

      Wow, Andy, that’s amazing! I’m happy to hear there are other people committed to reducing waste. I would love to know which companies are open to receiving the empties. I would definitely support those business over others. Thank you for investing your time in this mission.

      Reply
  • Jess Posted July 8, 2018 7:39 am

    I get that glass is infiltrating the other recyclables … so why don’t we sort or recyclables instead of stopping collection? That would seem like the reasonable solution. I’m happy there’s a place in Snellville I can bring my glass to and I hope that continues to remain open as a solution.

    Reply
    • Laura
      Laura Posted July 8, 2018 4:47 pm

      Great question! I’ll make a note to do some research and write an article on this topic. My guess is that there are too many investments into the model of single-stream recycling to go back to source-separation at this time. I’ll find out if any communities are beginning to consider going back to that approach.

      Reply
  • Dano Posted July 16, 2018 3:05 pm

    I have been talking with haulers today and there are a couple things I don’t understand about all this. 1: Why did the county not inform the citizens very early in this process? I did a Freedom of Information Act request and the solid waste department didn’t even know about it about until today when a hauler informed them I was calling. The legal department and PR departments are involved and they are only releasing information dated June 2018 forward. 2: As you described, the answer to this situation is segregated glass curbside pickup (Alpharetta does this). Evidently, the cost to collect weekly across the county would cost $870K per month? How much per month would the cost have been if the county hadn’t decided for us that glass shouldn’t be recycled any longer. Instead of a decrease, my rough calculations show that the increase per household would be minimal. Haulers can pick up segregated glass.

    Reply
  • Suzanne Posted July 23, 2018 8:13 pm

    Thanks Laura for writing this article! Unfortunately I don’t think many people will travel some distance to seek out a glass recycler and it will end up as Gwinnett suggested in the trash thus in the landfill. You have made some excellent points and as a long time Gwinnett resident I was totally surprised with their decision (or the mandatory trash service) which they shoved down our throats some years ago has decided to stop glass recycling. I too find this disturbing. As large as Gwinnett County is I would’ve hoped they had a viable solution which would keep glass out of our landfills but since it isn’t continuing to “grow” the already overgrown county economy it was pushed off the table. Shame on you Gwinnett County leaders. Bring back glass recycling! This huge county needs it most!

    Reply
  • Marcela R. Posted July 25, 2018 5:48 pm

    I was very disappointed to hear that glass recycling is being removed form curbside pick up. I love all of the above ideas and would totally be on board with sorting or returning bottles and jars back to manufacturers. How about a large container for glass recycling in each of Gwinnett’s wonderful parks, or just at selected ones. I think people are aware of the issue and would be happy to drop off their recyclable glass while visiting their favorite park. Making the container look like a glass eating monster would be fun for kids to feed it with the glass 😉

    Until a viable solution is found, I guess I’ll just have to make that 40 minute drive to Snellville Recycling Center 🙁

    Good Luck with your efforts, Laura!!

    Reply
    • Laura
      Laura Posted July 26, 2018 3:41 pm

      Love this idea Marcela! Thank you for sharing, and for making the trek to recycle your glass in the meantime!

      Reply
  • Victoria S-G Harris Posted September 8, 2018 1:16 pm

    Perhaps have glass recycling containers at Gwinnett County schools??? I know there used to be a paper recycling container at a Gwinnett County elementary school my children attended. This would make glass recycling very convenient for all Gwinnett County residents!!!

    Reply
  • Alba Posted October 18, 2018 2:26 pm

    Recently I travel to Europa and they have different kinds of containers for recycling, organic paper plastic and glass. why no implement those containers in our homes and organizations ? . Recycling must to be start in our homes when our little kids start educate and adults be example . Why waiting to much to implement those containers?

    Reply
    • Laura
      Laura Posted October 21, 2018 1:40 pm

      Good point! In many parts of the United States (including Gwinnett), recycling is currently collected in a “single-stream” system where paper, cardboard, and plastic are all mixed together and then are separated by hand and by machines. Single-stream recycling containers are in many homes and businesses. However, glass does not work well as part of a single-stream system, so there are certainly benefits to the separated approach to recycling that you saw in Europe.

      Reply
  • J. Abrantes Posted November 6, 2018 7:38 am

    I really hate that there is no longer glass recycling here in Gwinnett. It was great that the garbage collection services now offer the larger, covered can for our recycleables. However, a large and FULLY recyclable item is now taking up precious space in our landfills. Why not take our smaller recycle bins and use them exclusively for glass that can be picked up — even if every other week — by our sanitation services. OR like in the case of plastic bags that are recyclable, have containers in supermarkets or shopping areas that the glass can be returned to. There has to be some way to address this issue.

    Reply

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