The State of Glass Recycling in Southwestern PA:
An Open Letter to Our Local Governments and Communities written by
Since January 2019, many changes have occurred in our local communities’ recycling services – not the least of which was the loss of glass recycling as a curbside residential recycling option. Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC) and our partners across the region have worked hard since that time to respond to this change, which has been felt as more than just a change in our public services. It has been a major behavior change, a point of confusion across sectors, and a hard blow to the public’s trust in the recycling system. This outcome has been particularly unfortunate because of the strong regional glass manufacturing industry that we have in western PA and neighboring states, which offers local residents a chance to participate in a truly local circular economy … so long as they can get their glass bottle into the right bin.
Now in 2023, four years after this partner group first began developing a regional network of glass-only drop-off sites, some local communities are being offered the opportunity to reinsert glass bottles and jars into their residents’ curbside recycling bins. The partners in this letter have joined together to help explain the reasons behind this shift and to outline the best management practices to assist local governments in making the best decisions for their communities.
WHY IS THIS CHANGE HAPPENING … AGAIN?
When mixed together in your bin with other materials like paper and cardboard, glass is difficult to sort back out at a high enough quality for bottle and jar manufacturing. Some local recycling haulers bypassed this challenging, equipment-intensive process by removing glass from the curbside “single-stream” bin. Recently, one of these haulers has opted to make investments this year to improve its material processing practices, allowing it to successfully remove a larger portion of glass from single-stream, or “commingled,” collections and deliver it back into local glass manufacturing mills. This is a win for recycling and local sustainability efforts.
SHOULD I STOP USING A DROP-OFF GLASS RECYCLING BIN?
You should continue to use your drop-off bin if you can! While single-stream curbside collections can offer greater convenience, even the most state-of-the-art sorting facilities can only recover about 60-70% of glass for remanufacturing. The glass in your drop-off bin, however, is 98-100% recyclable into new bottles and jars. When glass is separated from other materials, the environmental and economic outcomes are better for all involved and support a local circular economy.
WHAT ARE THE PROS & CONS OF EACH OPTION?
Adding glass back into single-stream may come with high costs, while drop-off sites are very cost-effective for communities. Curbside single-stream collection may be more convenient for certain residents, but apartment dwellers and small businesses may not have other options if a drop-off site is removed. Convenience comes at the cost of recovery: 98-100% recovered from drop-off sites versus 60-70% recovered from the best single-stream operations. PRC and our partners are committed to finding ways to keep drop-off site costs manageable so that communities can offer a variety of options for glass recycling.
As valued partners and leaders in the effort to create a strong local recycling system, we are encouraging our local communities to keep their glass drop-off sites active and open to residents and small businesses. Doing so will protect the quality of our glass recycling, protect manufacturing jobs in western Pennsylvania, and offer multiple options for your sustainably-minded constituents.
For more information about glass recycling best practices, please visit:
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