Ask Eartha: You have glass-recycling questions, Eartha’s got answers
March 5, 2014
We saw last week’s article on glass recycling but we’re a little confused on the process and the changes for single-stream. Could you please clarify and address how this will impact curbside collection for condos and townhomes?
— Tim and Cindy, Summit Cove
Over the next couple of weeks, Eartha will be focusing on a series of articles concerning Summit County’s recycling program. This week, we’ll start with an introduction to glass-contamination issues in curbside single-stream collection. The best way to address glass issues and the county’s new “Bottle-to-Bottle” recycling program is a good ol’ Q&A session. Here are some answers to common questions we’ve received concerning glass recycling:
Does this new program apply to me?
If your recycling is currently picked up from your home or business (collected “curbside” as “single-stream”), this change applies to you. Please bring your glass to one of the free, recycling drop-off centers in Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon or Silverthorne. For directions and hours, visit http://www.highcountryconservation.org.
What is curbside single-stream recycling?
Also known as comingled or unsorted recycling, single-stream recycling allows customers to throw all of their recyclables into one bin that generally is collected at the curb by a local waste hauler. Single-stream recycling typically increases recycling rates because its ease encourages more community members to participate. For this reason, single-stream collection is often the service of choice for condos, townhomes and multi-family units.
What happens to glass in curbside single-stream?
After single-stream materials are collected, they are transported to a recycling processing center — the Material Recovery Facility (MRF) at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park near Keystone or the Waste Management MRF located in Silverthorne. Materials are compressed, bailed and shipped to Front Range facilities to be sorted, then shipped to manufacturers around the country to be made into new products.
During the bailing process, glass breaks into shards, or “cullet,” that become embedded in other recyclables causing major contamination issues. The cullet diminishes the value and recyclability of all the materials in the single-stream process, particularly paper and cardboard. More important, glass cullet is extremely difficult to recycle after going through the single-stream process because of additional contamination from ceramic, leaded glass and other non-glass items.
It makes it nearly impossible with today’s technology to reuse the glass to make new bottles, which is the key to the whole program.
What happens to glass collected at drop-off centers?
Summit County’s “Bottle-to-Bottle” program is a “source-separated” recycling system in place at drop-off centers in Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon, Summit Cove and Waste Management in Silverthorne. Source-separated recycling asks participants to place their glass, paper, plastic, cardboard and metal recycables into separate containers. It’s the ideal way to recycle because all materials stay “cleaner” and yield the highest value to our local recycling programs. Source-separated glass is true “bottle-to-bottle” recycling because glass collected at the drop-off centers goes directly to MillerCoors’ Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. in Golden to be made into new bottles.
Participants can recycle clear glass and mixed glass (brown and colored glass) in separate containers at the Frisco and Breckenridge recycling centers. Why do we collect two types of glass? Coors has traditionally used brown glass for its products and has been willing to pay more for it. Since Miller has joined forces with Coors, the company now has a higher demand for clear glass bottles. By collecting these commodities separately, we are able to increase the value of the products, ultimately benefitting the entire recycling program.
We’ve been adding glass to single-stream for years, what’s changed?
Glass contamination is actually a major problem for all communities collecting glass in single-stream. There is a national trend toward single-stream collection, and cross-contamination through glass collection is a growing industry concern. It is likely you’ll see additional communities removing glass from single-stream in the near future.
Bottling companies used to take single-stream cullet but contamination rates have skyrocketed, increasing operating and equipment costs for both the processor and the manufacturer. Bottling plants have stopped taking single-stream cullet and are now demanding “clean,” source-separated glass.
What’s the deadline for these changes?
There is no hard deadline for the current single-stream changes for glass. In other words, we are asking for your help to make this program successful. There are still several issues to work out with condo buildings, homeowner associations, property management companies and businesses and restaurants. In the meantime, we are looking for solutions that logistically work for everyone.
Will anyone pick up glass from my home or business?
Please contact your local waste hauler to determine whether separate glass collection is available as a service. This change also supports the need for new glass-collection programs, so consider starting your own business!
High Country Conservation Center has partnered with Summit County government to provide education and support on recycling issues. If you still have questions about glass recycling, please let us know. We’re here to help! Contact HC3 at (970) 668-5703 or visit our website at http://www.highcountryconservation.org.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.