Ask Eartha: Why glass recycling makes a difference
We used our fair share of glass bottles while visiting Summit County this week, but I saw that glass can’t be mixed with other recyclables here. Why is that and what should we do with the glass?
— Eva, Keystone
Great question, Eva. I’m glad you want to recycle your glass because, unlike most other materials, glass can be infinitely remelted, reformed and reused without any loss in quality. The glass we recycle today will be the glass used by our grandchildren’s grandchildren and potentially endless generations after that.
Glass is made from sand, soda ash and lime, and for every ton of recycled glass used, more than a ton of natural resources are saved. Manufacturers save money using recycled glass, or cullet as the industry calls it, which incentivizes them to increase the recycled content in their products. Plus, according to the Glass Packaging Institute, every 10 percent of cullet used enables a 50-85 degree temperature reduction in the melting process, and the energy saved means great benefits for the environment and society.
Here in Summit County, glass recycling, when done properly, has a happy ending.
ONCE UPON A BOTTLE
In the 1990s and 2000s, communities started introducing single-stream recycling, also known as co-mingled or unsorted, to increase recycling rates. While the convenience factor increased recycling rates, governments, processors and manufacturers immediately noticed a problem that has become a crisis.
The glass breaks — either in the bin or when compressed into bales at the processing plant — and it lodges into other recyclables, especially paper and cardboard. These contaminated materials become nearly impossible to recycle and their value drops significantly, threatening the financial sustainability of recycling programs and companies. Contamination and extra sorting increases costs to operators, and, most importantly, what little glass is left at the end is mixed with bits of paper and plastic and becomes trash. I wouldn’t call that recycling.
But a few years ago, Summit County started requiring everyone to recycle glass separately, and the best part of the story is Summit’s separated glass is processed right here in Colorado and returned to store shelves within 30 days.
Most of our glass is trucked down to the Front Range and sold to MillerCoors’s Rocky Mountain Bottling Co. in Wheat Ridge. That money helps fund our recycling program, and MillerCoors pays more for Summit’s uncontaminated clear glass, so it makes dollars and cents to separate clear glass from the brown, green, blue and other colors.
WHERE TO GO, WHAT TO KNOW
Many condo complexes and hotels have recycling collection on-site, but you might need to ask where to find it. If separate glass recycling is unavailable, glass must be taken to a drop-off site.
Free glass recycling is available at the Breckenridge, Frisco and Dillon recycling centers, and Waste Management in Silverthorne. The town of Breckenridge also provides free glass depots through a partnership with Denver company Clear Intentions at three locations throughout town.
The drop-off sites are open 24/7, with the exception of the Waste Management site, and you can find addresses and a map of their locations online through High Country Conservation Center. HC3 can also provide signage that makes it clear for customers, employees or tenants what can and cannot go into the bins. Businesses and housing complexes can contact Clear Intentions for inexpensive glass recycling services.
Remember, only glass bottles and jars are allowed. Adding other items like drinking glasses, cookware, crystal, windows, mirrors, light bulbs, ceramics or bags turns the entire load into trash. So donate those materials or put them in your garbage. Labels can stay on, but liquids should be rinsed out. Food containers don’t need to be squeaky clean, but be sure to remove the food. Don’t let your leftover peanut butter mess up the process.
LET’S RECYCLE RIGHT
For a community that especially loves and depends on its environment, Summit lags behind the country with recycling. Our overall diversion rate — or the amount of waste we divert from the landfill — is 22 percent compared to the national average of 34 percent.
To help increase glass recycling, you can do three things:
Stay up-to-date on community recycling rules. As economic factors shift and capabilities of local governments, processors and manufacturers change, so too do the rules.
Talk to neighbors, friends, family and customers about how our community recycles glass and how they can help.
Push for a Colorado bottle deposit law. States with one have a glass recycling rate of 63 percent, on average, compared to the 24 percent average rate of other states, according to the Container Recycling Institute.
If you want to learn more about glass recycling in Summit, visit HighCountryConservation.org or call the HC3 folks at 970-668-5703, and thank you for caring about reusing this resource!
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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