Summit County is throwing out one material from its current recycling program in hopes of bettering the quality of materials to be reused.
The county is no longer accepting glass in its recycling pickups, instead focusing on “bottle-to-bottle” recycling, which began Jan. 1, to try to help improve the volume and value of recycled glass.
Jennifer Santry, High Country Conservation Center community programs director, said: “We are looking to make our recycling the best it can be, for the community, for the environment, and when we see a problem like this we want to make it better.”
The Summit County Zero Waste task force decided to eliminate glass from single-stream recycling. Glass now should be taken to local, free drop-off centers around the county. Also known as co-mingled or unsorted recycling, single-stream allows customers to put all of their recyclables into one bin, which is generally collected at the curb by a local waste hauler.
Single-stream usually helps increase recycling rates, Santry said, because of the ease of the process. But the glass is crushed when it’s processed, which contaminates other recyclable items, especially paper and cardboard.
“Most people do single-stream because it’s easy, and we want people to recycle,” she said. “Glass contamination is an issue if it’s still in the mix. These little glass shards are mixed in with other bits and pieces, and they can’t really do anything with it, it’s hard to recycle at that point.”
It is also difficult to reuse the broken glass to make new bottles, which is the goal of the program.
“We take great pride in knowing that our local recycling program is one of the best in the state, and we go to great lengths to ensure that the products we collect go to the highest and best use possible,” said Aaron Byrne, the county’s solid waste and recycling director, in a prepared statement.
Once the recycling materials are collected, they are transported to the Material Recovery Facility at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park near Keystone, or the waste management area in Silverthorne. Materials are compressed, bailed and shipped to Front Range facilities to be separated and then shipped to manufacturers around the country to be made into new products.
A second issue with including glass in the single-stream system is that during the bailing process, the pieces of glass can get stuck in the equipment, which causes major issues and incurs higher costs to fix that wear and tear. Santry also said a third problem presents itself when the glass leaves the facility and goes to the Front Range to be sorted, because it’s virtually impossible to use the glass in shards.
“There’s a benefit to recycling glass and we want people to take that next step, but if they are not willing to do that, then they need to throw it away,” she said. “If it stays in the process, it’s hurting the recycling program.”
There are drop-off centers in Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Summit Cove and Silverthorne. The bottle-to-bottle glass recycling program allows people to put glass and other materials into separate containers.
“We have a pretty unique community, a lot cannot recycle glass at all,” Santry said. “We have a local facility on the Front Range that wants clean glass and there’s a market for it. They are taking it; they love our glass.”
Separating glass helps the material stay cleaner, with fewer contaminants, and therefore yield a higher value to local recycling programs. This “source-separated” glass is the true use of bottle-to-bottle because the glass collected at the drop-off centers goes directly to Miller/Coors’ Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. in Golden to be made into new bottles.
“Paper with tons of glass shards in it, that makes it harder to recycle at all, and it’s a sad thing to have to throw it away,” Santry said.
While the bottle-to-bottle program is focused mostly on residential recyclers, Santry said the Summit County Zero Waste task force is also working to help businesses and restaurants who have larger amounts of glass. She said the task force is working with haulers to help pick up glass for more commercial businesses in Summit County.
Santry said glass is a problem for single-stream recycling programs across the country, and many other communities will be looking to Summit County as an example of how an alternate program could work.
“We wish we could recycle everything, but we have to be flexible,” she said. “It comes down to personal responsibility and looking at the whole picture.”
For more information, visit www.highcountryconservation.org or call (970) 668-5703.