I'll Drink to That

GLASS RECYCLING IS ONE of the oldest and simplest forms of recycling. However, the national trend toward commingled collection of multiple materials in a single cart, known as single-stream recycling, can markedly increase the tendency of glass containers to break during collection and processing, resulting in cross-contamination with other materials.

Single-stream programs can significantly reduce the expense of collecting recyclables. However, several studies have shown that they can increase costs for processors who must separate the mixed recyclables and for end-users who require a clean stream of high-quality material to manufacture new products.

With the quantity and quality of glass cullet supply potentially compromised by the shift to single-stream collection, glass manufacturers are increasingly playing an active role in working with governments and local organizations to improve and expand the glass recycling supply chain.

Because they offer a clean stream of glass containers that can be collected efficiently, bars and restaurants are an ideal target for these new efforts. This article profiles a few programs now underway that are successfully cultivating these generators.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. is partnering with Jeff Dahl, a small independent hauler, to collect amber bottles from bars and restaurants in the Colorado Springs area. Rocky Mountain hopes this program, started in June 2005, will improve the quality and quantity of amber cullet the company receives locally.

To date, glass containers are picked up from 30 bars and restaurants, generating about 40 tons per month. A unique feature of the program is that most bar and restaurant staff place recyclable glass bottles for recycling back into their shipping boxes. Most of the containers collected are brown glass, and the limited amount of non-amber glass is easily separated out. “There is very little green and clear, so it doesn't impact the quality,” Dahl says.

Collection is offered at no cost to businesses. So far, only a handful have opted out of the program. While collection is every other day or daily at the businesses, materials are transported monthly to the Rocky Mountain Bottle facility, a 3-hour round trip. The hauler receives $50 per ton of amber glass delivered.

Fort Collins, Colo.

Since fall 2004, Fort Collins has operated a small commercial glass recycling program with the local New Belgium Brewing Company. Known as the Brown Bottle Recycling Program, recovered glass containers are collected in 65-gallon polycarts by participating bars and restaurants in the Old Town district.

Filled polycarts are picked up by Rob's Bike Courier Service and deposited in New Belgium's 30-yard glass recycling bin. The company trucks the glass containers to Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. in Golden, Colo., for recycling. To date, 14 businesses are participating, generating 4,500 pounds of glass containers each month. City officials eventually hope to have every bar and restaurant — more than 40 businesses — in the 40-square-block Old Town area participating. Bars and restaurants can also self-haul glass containers to the city's drop-off center.

Orange County, N.C.

With a program in place since 1992, Orange County, which encompasses the Chapel Hill, N.C., area, has a lot of experience in commercial recycling.

The county-operated collection program is voluntary and is funded by a recycling fee charged to all households and businesses. By the end of fiscal year 2005, Orange County bars and restaurants recycled about 550 tons of glass and cans. They also recycle newspaper and plastic bottles. Currently 125 businesses participate in the program. “We promote the fact that businesses participate, and their customers expect that they're going to recycle these materials,” says Rob Taylor, recycling programs manager for the county. Businesses are typically able to save money on the program because recyclables are diverted from trash.

About 95 percent of the participating businesses and apartment complexes sort the materials on-site. The county further cleans the glass and then delivers it to a beneficiator in Raleigh, N.C., about 30 miles away. The county receives $27 per ton for clear glass, $17 per ton for brown and $5 per ton for green or green/brown mix. Recently, with help from a state grant, Orange County acquired an Andela glass crusher to make a sand-like product from green glass and glass that is too contaminated with materials such like ceramics and Pyrex to market.

This past year, North Carolina passed a state law (HB1518) requiring all businesses with permits to serve alcohol to recycle beverage containers. Taking effect in January 2008, the law includes all container materials (plastic, cans and glass), but is primarily targeted at glass container recycling.

Pasadena, Calif.

With help from a California Department of Conservation Recycling Market Development Fund matching grant, the Alexandria, Va.-based Glass Packaging Institute kicked off an 18-month commercial glass recycling pilot program in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena (pop. 150,000) in April.

The Allan Co., a California hauler and recycler, will develop and operate a bar and restaurant recycling route in the city center. The city and hauler will work together to market the program to businesses. An interim report, evaluating economics as well as quality issues, is expected six months into the project.


With a clear U.S. trend toward glass collection at bars and restaurants, the glass industry and waste officials are confident that the push to recycle glass containers through the retail supply chain is on a roll.

Joe Cattaneo, President, Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va., and Michael Alexander, Senior Research Associate, National Recycling Coalition, Washington.