In this episode of Unpacking Recycling with Charlotte, we cover all things glass. From trends in glass production and recycling and tips on proper recycling of various containers – to how local communities are getting creative in recycling glass —Charlotte tells it like it is.
Here’s a sneak peek into the discussion:
Waste360: 3.1 million tons of glass containers were recycled in the U.S. in 2018 —that is about a 31% recycling rate. Please share your thoughts on that and everything else glass-related.
Dreizen: You’re absolutely right. And when we see those really big glass numbers, it’s partly because of the weight of it. The recycling rate is good but not as high as we’d like to see. And the glass-recycling landscape has changed a lot in recent years. We produce a little less glass than we used to in the past, but we’ve been recycling a pretty steady rate of it over the past handful of years—but that does depend on package type. There are lots of different considerations as to when we might want to recycle different types of glass, and when we might not. The answer is often “it depends.”
And you can’t recycle anything, unfortunately, that’s less than two by two inches. We all know that glass breaks—and it will break as it gets transported to recycling facilities and gets processed. The facilities are designed to capture all the small broken pieces as glass—so anything we put into the system that is small will contaminate this stream. So, a small metal cap on, for instance, a beer bottle should not be put into the recycling bin as it’s under that two-by-two threshold. A larger cap on, say, a jam or pasta-sauce jar, can go into the blue bin.
Waste360: What should people know about the labels on glass packaging?
Dreizen: A paper label is totally fine; it will be burned off in the hot furnace that glass goes through at the recycling plant. It’s also fine if, say, a lime or lemon slice remains in your bottle.
Waste360: The pandemic had a big impact on glass recycling with pullbacks in some of these programs. Are you seeing a revitalization of these efforts now?
Dreizen: There are exciting grassroots programs out there now — in New Orleans, for instance where volunteers are organizing glass-recycling on their own. We don’t want people to be in the position where the services they have access to are sufficient that they have to do it on their own, but it’s heartening to see these efforts. And a lot of communities are thinking about ways they can recycle glass locally, if they don’t have access to a facility. For instance, some communities are starting to grind glass back into sand and use that sand for other purposes like storm-water and disaster applications. We’re also seeing it be used more and more in aggregate and construction applications and fiberglass. It doesn’t have to go back into a glass package or consumer good to have a happy end story there.