Glass recycling pilot advances in Pennsylvania
Glass Recycling Foundation

Glass recycling pilot advances in Pennsylvania

Public-private partnerships helped to start a drop-off pilot program for glass recycling in Erie County, Pennsylvania, after the county stopped collecting glass in its single-stream recycling program in 2018.

February 25, 2021

Prism Recycling, Erie, Pennsylvania, has developed a drop-off pilot program for glass recycling in Erie County, Pennsylvania, through a public-private partnership among the Erie County Recycling program, the Erie Area Council of Governments, CAP Glass Recycling and the Glass Recycling Foundation.

The Glass Recycling Foundation, Ann Arbor, Michigan, is a nonprofit that was established to help support pilot projects to overcome barriers to glass recycling. “We are pleased to provide our first grant award to support this collaborative effort in Erie County,” says Scott DeFife, president of the Glass Recycling Foundation. “There are strong end-markets for good quality glass in Pennsylvania and programs like this are needed to get that material back into the circular economy and glass supply chain.”

Through the partnership, Prism provides overall project management and coordination as well as the majority of capital investment to develop the system and business model. Prism manages the glass recycler drop-off boxes that were custom fabricated by Switch-N-Go in Hadley, Pennsylvania. The Erie County government and the Glass Recycling Foundation also provided $10,000 each toward the purchase of these drop-off boxes to offset the total cost of $77,000.

The Erie County Recycling Program and the Erie Area Council of Governments—an 18-municipality membership association—provides ongoing promotional help for the pilot.

According to the Glass Recycling Foundation, residents in the county have been visiting these drop-off sites to deliver clean and empty glass bottles and jars.

“The way we were collecting glass in single-stream recycling made it nearly impossible to recycle due to breakage and contamination,” says Lynn Armel, Erie County sustainability coordinator. “Glass is an endlessly recyclable material, but it must be collected separately. We are really lucky to have a local business making that possible. Erie County Recycling is so pleased to be part of this innovative effort in glass recycling.”

Prism monitors the drop-off box levels via Compology cameras, and when full, the materials are hauled to the SB3 Industrial Park in Erie by a locally contracted hauler and aggregates materials into a large concrete bunker until there is enough volume to trigger a pickup by CAP Glass Recycling in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. CAP is a regional glass processor that supplies furnace-ready cullet to the O-I and Ardagh Group glass container manufacturing plants in Brockway and Port Allegany, Pennsylvania, respectively. ‘

Nicholas Bruno, business development manager at Prism, says the containers have been filling up quickly so far.

“We had one filled within three weeks,” he says. “It’s still early, and it’s winter. We anticipate quicker fill times in nicer weather.”

CAP is providing technical assistance, physical infrastructure and trucking services as part of the pilot project, as well.

Providing a local solution

In late 2018, Erie County officials had announced that contracted haulers in the area were removing glass from single-stream recycling. Laura Guncheon, vice president of the project management office at Erie Management Group, says many county residents were unhappy about that decision.

“People were calling the city and county; they knew there was value in glass,” she says.

At that time, Bruno decided to start a small glass collection business called Bayfront Glass to collect glass from residents in the Erie area. Guncheon says Bayfront raised awareness about glass recycling at local pop-up collection events in 2019.

Around that time, Guncheon says Erie Management Group, a local investment firm, saw what Bayfront Glass was doing and answered Bayfront’s call for collaboration. Although a partnership with Bayfront Glass didn’t work out, she says Bruno left Bayfront Glass to his business partner to eventually join Erie Management Group as a business development manager.

Prism Glass first began in 2020 in the middle of the pandemic, but Guncheon says that it wasn’t too challenging to start last year.

“People were home more than they ever were before,” she says. “Because they were home, it was in their face the amount of waste in their house. There was more trash and recycling. People were stockpiling glass in their garages. So, folks wanted some sort of an option to recycle glass.”

Prism Glass currently offers 15 glass recycling drop-off locations in northwest Pennsylvania that all feature Compology cameras monitoring them. 

In 2021, Bruno says plans are to expand and add more drop-off locations. He says he’s also been busy promoting the new service to hundreds of local business owners and gauging interest levels in a collection service and what business owners would pay for that service.

“I think a big goal for Prism is for every resident in northwest Pennsylvania that has a glass container should know it can go to a recycling stream,” Guncheon adds. “It’s a lofty goal, but it’s reprogramming folks to know glass is valuable. If you’re not going to reuse it at home, that glass has another life.”

Bruno says any other municipalities or companies considering offering a glass recycling collection service should first research the infrastructure to recycle glass in the surrounding area. He says the Glass Recycling Coalition has a good map that provides details on glass processors in the U.S. Then, he says, reach out to the community, businesses and municipalities alike to promote the idea of a public-private partnership as a way to address problems to have a broader and more sustainable impact.

Bruno says he’s hopeful that Prism Glass can help provide a solution for glass collection in the circular economy for glass. “A circular economy exists for glass in many areas where there are glass container processing facilities and glass furnaces,” he says. “The bottleneck is having glass-only collection systems. The collection part is the part of the circular economy we’re trying to improve.”