Many people are seeing an ominous new sign when they take their bins to local recycling facilities: Not currently accepting glass. Why are facilities no longer accepting glass? Especially when glass can be recycled indefinitely and used in many products including “glassphalt,” a road laying material comprising about 30% recycled glass.
The glass recycling market is in a season of transition. In New England, the closing of glass bottle manufacturer, Ardagh, led to the closure of Strategic Materials, which was the only glass recycling plant in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, these closures left limited options for glass recycling in New England.
What’s causing this downturn?
Several factors are at work. For one, the demand for glass has slowed from beverage makers. Breweries and beer manufacturers are choosing aluminum cans instead of glass bottles for packaging. Notoriously, recycling glass can be a difficult process due to caps, stickers, and paper labels which can damage machinery. Also, glass is heavy making it expensive and difficult to transport and ship.
So what’s happening to all the glass that’s not being recycled?
In some areas, it’s being ground into cullet/sand and used for road projects, but unfortunately, other areas are paying hefty fees to landfill it.
Recycling customers, glass manufacturers, recyclers and eco-conscious researchers are looking for cost-effective and environmentally sound ways to reuse glass. A government initiative in Ontario, the Continuous Improvement Fund, is researching using recycled glass as a substitute for sand in bio-soil, a soil type product used to support plant growth.
Kirstie Pecci of the Zero Waste Project hopes that with plastic on the way out glass will bounce back as a packaging material and encourages Massachusetts to incentivize the reuse of glass bottles.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has tried to offset the loss by issuing business grants to towns in order to help municipalities recycle glass in their own facilities to benefit state and local projects. The towns of Dennis and Groton were given $257,000 in a cost-effective and productive effort to fill the gap left by Ardagh’s departure.