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Recycling, revisited

Themes/tags: Miscellaneous, followup musings, short (relatively)

In a recent musing I ranted about the elimination of glass from the city of Grinnell’s recycling program and about the College’s misleading communication about recycling on campus. I am pleased to report that it appears that the College is again recycling.

Here’s what today’s news item [1] says.

Single Stream Recycling Returns but No Glass

The City of Grinnell has signed a contract with a recycling sorter and is taking the college’s single stream recycling again. There is one major change, they are no longer accepting glass with the mixed recyclables. If glass is placed in the recycle bins the entire bin will be considered trash. There are several reasons recyclers are excluding glass. First, broken glass contaminates other recyclables, especially paper. Secondly, there is not much of a market for glass. In fact much of the glass recycled today is ground up and used as a landfill liner, so although it is used one additional time, it is not available for continued recycling.

I’m sad about the glass. But I keep hearing that glass is not valuable as a recyclable material. I find that surprising [2]. One reader shared an article about recycling from Ars Technica that not only describes how modern single-stream recycling plants work, but includes a short comment on the glass.

The first material to go is glass. Lots of it gets broken during transport; large asymmetric steel rollers break down the rest into small pieces. These simply fall through the cracks and are collected below. The rest of the material is too large and continues on its way. Sims can separate out clear glass for reuse; any colored material is typically used as construction fill.

Hmmm … that suggests to me that they still see a use for clear glass and colored glass still gets a use that is better than landfill [3]. While it may seem to suggest that broken glass is not a contaminant, further reading of the article reveals that this plant does not regularly deal with paper good.

The article also inclues a good rationale for single-stream recycling.

In fact, sorting recyclables into anything more than one or two separate streams causes the recycling rate to plunge. Single-stream recycling has a big advantage in transportation terms, as well. When trucks aren’t required to have spaces dedicated to individual recyclables, they’re more likely to end up completely filled before they bring the material to its destination.

It appears that I was wrong about single-stream recycling and possibly wrong about glass, at least in single-stream recycling systems.

In any case, I’m glad to hear that we have a reasonable recycling system in place. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that everyone realizes that glass can’t be recycled.

[1] I still remain frustrated by the College’s not-really-discussed decision to put announcements like this behind a password wall.

[2] See the earlier musing for more details.

[3] Or landfill liner.