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Let's Talk Glass

At a recent Pasco County Commission meeting there was discussion on the Recycling program and ways to improve it. County staff is recommending weekly recycling collection along with a cart option that the haulers would be implementing. Three cheers for weekly recycling! Now you won’t look like a hoarder with a month of recycling if you miss a week. The other topic that was discussed was pulling glass out of the recycling stream, and it’s causing quite a debate. So we decided to do a little research to get the facts.

There are quite a few problems when trying to recycle glass. Since we are single stream everything goes in one container. It makes collection a lot easier, but unfortunately it increases contamination. The recycling you put in your bin goes into the truck, then gets dumped on the floor of the recycling transfer station. Next it gets placed into another truck for transport to the recycling material recovery facility (MRF). There’s a pretty good chance that somewhere in that process the glass items are going to break, which will contaminate other items such as paper. Recycling contaminants are disposed of just like regular trash. Unfortunately, glass increases the contamination for everything.

What happens to the glass that does make it? What does it get made into? Well, that’s another issue with glass. There is no market for it in Florida. No company is using recycled glass to make another product. So the glass would have to be shipped out of state, which is expensive and increases the carbon footprint through fuel. Not the most environmentally friendly thing to do. The recycling MRFs send the glass to landfills to use as cover. At least that’s something though, right? Actually, most landfills do not use glass for cover. It’s not user friendly and can cause issues with machinery unless it is ground super fine. The majority of the time the glass just ends up in a landfill with trash.

In Pasco County the household trash is disposed of in the energy from waste facility ran by Covanta. This is a complex process, which is a discussion on its own, but for our purposes the important point is that there are less greenhouse gases emitted from this facility than from a landfill. It is a more sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to landfilling. The glass bottle that you were recycling that was going to a landfill will now be processed in the energy from waste facility.

Some people think that Pasco County wants to make this change just to save money. It is true that there will be a cost savings from pulling glass from recycling, but that is not the priority. The focus is to create a more sustainable recycling program by recycling right, looking at quality not just quantity. Trash and recycling are complex problems throughout the world, not just Pasco County. There are other solutions that the county has limited control over, but we do – reduce and reuse. Stay away from single use plastics, instead of pitching the glass jar save it and use it for something else, and try and purchase items made with recycled materials. It is through waste reduction that we can have the largest impact, and that’s something we all can do.

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