Is Glass Trash?

Posted by: Justin Stockdale on January 9, 2019

Starting at the first of the year many Pennsylvania residents are being faced with a dramatic change to the recycling programs they have relied on for nearly 30 years. As of January 1, 2019 the new rules include a ban on glass in residential and commercial programs. The sudden changes are being blamed on changing global recycling markets and the mechanical challenges presented by glass at recycling facilities.

It is important to know that glass is in fact one of the most recyclable materials we generate in our homes. In fact Pennsylvania is home to three separate mills (more than any other state) which consume household glass bottles and jars as the raw material for their new products. Glass remains a valuable commodity which is supported by significant market demand.

The real problem which is driving glass out of our curbside recycling bins is the inability of recycling facilities to effectively sort glass to meet the quality standards of the industries which consume it. The photograph below demonstrates this challenge. This is a picture of what “glass” looks like that is collected with other materials and “sorted” at a recycling processing facility. As you can see, it is difficult to find anything that is actually glass in this picture.

Pennsylvania is also fortunate to have two industrial glass benefication facilities which are capable of taking this mish-mash of materials and cleaning them up to meet the standards of the glass manufacturers. However, this secondary sorting and cleaning comes at a cost which the recycling facilities are hoping to avoid by dropping glass from their collection programs. To be sure, there are issues with glass beyond cost. Glass is highly abrasive and damages equipment and can harm the people charged with sorting our recycling. Glass frequently gets mixed in with paper, plastics and other materials throughout the sorting process leading to lower quality of all recycling, not just the glass. In short, there are many very real reasons glass is being banned from the recycling bin.

The question remains however that if glass is a valuable commodity why can’t we continue to recycle it? The answer is directly tied to how we collect it. PRC is actively working with industry and community partners to develop a new network of convenient and accessible glass recycling drop off sites to allow residents and businesses to continue to recycle their glass. The drop off sites will certainly not be as convenient as the curb in front of our homes, but they will respect glass as a commodity for use in manufacturing it into new products.

Sign up for PRC’s e-newsletter to stay up to date with new alternatives for glass recycling in Pittsburgh or send us an email at infowest@prc.org to let us know if you would use a drop off to recycle your glass?