Ask Eartha: Glass recycling conundrums still on the horizon for Summit County
The last two weeks of Ask Eartha have provided an overview of glass and recycling issues in our community.
To recap, we discussed the concerns behind single-stream recycling, including contamination problems when glass is collected and bailed. Crushed glass in single-stream collection imbeds in other recyclables, devalues these materials and damages recycling and bailing equipment (a substantial cost for recycling programs everywhere).
We also examined single-stream glass as an end-product and determined if bottling plants like MillerCoors in Golden no longer want this contaminated glass, our community should address the problem directly by removing glass from single-stream altogether. Finally, we looked at “bottle-to-bottle” recycling as a solution to single-stream glass by asking consumers to take their glass to free, local drop-off centers to be truly recycled into new bottles.
Moving forward, we still have some glass conundrums to figure out. For instance, how will restaurants recycle their glass if it is no longer picked up with their single-stream recycling? How will we educate second-home owners and visitors about our unique glass changes? Should we have more glass recycling depots throughout the community to improve access? How can we encourage local waste haulers to pick up glass separately?
As a final article in this glass recycling series, I thought it would be great to focus on solutions. What are some of the success stories of communities blazing the trail of dual-stream recycling (separate glass and single-stream recycling)? What can we learn from these communities that will make our transition smoother?
First, let’s address the question that everyone is asking. Why doesn’t Colorado have a statewide beverage container redemption program, better known as a “bottle bill”? You may be thinking, if we had a bottle bill, consumers would be more willing to take their glass bottles to collection depots or redemption centers to receive their 5 cent incentive. This seems like a logical solution to bump up recycling participation while separating glass from single-stream.
The problem is, Colorado doesn’t have a bottle bill, nor are there plans for such legislation anytime in the near future. Bottle bills have always faced strong opposition in Colorado, especially from bottling companies. This is really a root problem of something called extender producer responsibility (EPR).
EPR represents policies that require manufacturers who create the waste (i.e., bottles, electronics, paints, etc.) to take responsibility for the end-life or disposal of that product. Our current, flawed system puts the burden on the consumer (and the planet). Until major changes take place at the state or national level to shift responsibility back to the businesses producing the packaging, EPR will remain a distant dream instead of an achievable goal.
So what can we do in our community — right now? Here are a couple of Colorado-born solutions provided by Waste 360’s article “I’ll Drink to That.” It is important to note that there is high demand for clean glass from the bottling industry. In other words, the industry wants our source-separated glass bottles … we just have to get it there. The good news is that we have a (glass) ton of opportunity!
If bars and restaurants can’t self-haul their glass to free drop-off centers, maybe we should create more recycling depots, transfer stations or drop-sites for glass. New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins supports glass recycling through 65-gallon collection bins located at or near bars and restaurants throughout the town district.
The containers are then collected by a bike courier service and deposited in a 30-yard container at New Belgium.
Of course, bikes really don’t make sense for a year-round service in Summit County, but if we could find a way to close the gap between the restaurant and a nearby collection site, this model could definitely make sense.
Colorado Springs has an ideal program with a small independent hauler working directly with Rocky Mountain Bottle Co. to pick up amber glass containers (for free) from 30 bars and restaurants. Bar and restaurant staff simply put glass bottles back into shipping boxes for recycling collection.
The hauler is able to generate 40 tons of glass per month, which amounts to about $2,000 in payment from the bottling company ($50 per ton for clean, delivered amber).
Again, we’re working hard to figure out how to make “clean” glass recycling work in Summit County. Maybe you’ve thought of something we haven’t. In the meantime, you can help by removing your glass from single-stream recycling and taking it to your local drop-off center.
Still have questions? High Country Conservation Center has partnered with Summit County government to provide education and support on recycling issues. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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