2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference: Getting to the bottom of glass

2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference: Getting to the bottom of glass

Speakers in this workshop update conference attendees on where glass recycling stands today, how to improve the collection and processing of the material and offered suggestions of ways to manage glass’ challenges.

October 26, 2015

If one thing is for certain in the recycling industry, it is that glass is not going anywhere. That’s according to Curt Bucey, president and chief operating officer of Houston-based Strategic Materials Inc. (SMI), the largest glass recycler in North America. He served on a panel during the workshop “Glass: Managing the Residue Stream” at the 2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference, hosted by the Recycling Today Media Group in Chicago Oct. 14-16.

In what Bucey described as a “strong market,” the glass recycling industry has a lot of potential, as long as everyone involved can work together, he said. “The solution is we’ve got to clean the glass up and get it in a positive value,” Bucey said, adding, “MRFs (material recovery facilities) have to make money. The system has to get fixed, and I don’t think taking glass out will fix it.”

Bucey joined Waste Management’s Susan Robinson, director, federal and state public affairs, for the Houston-based company, and moderator Lynn Bragg, president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), an Arlington, Virginia-based trade association representing the North American glass container industry, to update conference attendees on where glass recycling stands today, how to improve the collection and processing of the material and offered suggestions of ways to manage glass’ challenges.

One of the challenges Waste Management has run into is that in “very few instances do we get paid for glass. We pay for glass, we’re paying to get rid of it,” Robinson said.

She explained how an industry value chain discussion needs to take place so that everyone is on the same page. “It will take all of us working together … to make sure we have a full understanding of what we could do better,” Robinson said.

She continued, “It’s tough in this down recycling market to make investments when we’re struggling to keep the recycling industry moving forward. Everybody is really working to find out how we can make money off glass.”

Robinson shared alternative collection options occurring in a number of U.S. cities that could serve as inspiration for other regions having difficulty handling glass in MRFs.

First, she discussed how in Portland, Oregon, a container deposit system for certain bottle types has encouraged glass recycling. In addition, Oregon residents have been influenced by Pacific Northwest paper markets, and in an effort to keep glass out of single-stream recycling programs, glass is collected in separate containers in separate trucks, Robinson said. While she noted that this method has increased the cost of recycling collection, the effort has minimized recycling challenges due to contamination.

In Salt Lake City, residents can subscribe separately for glass collection: For an additional $7 per month, residents can set out a 35-gallon bin provided by Momentum Recycling, Salt Lake City, which then processes and markets the glass for recycling, Robinson explained. Separate drop-off locations are provided for no additional fee, she added. 

Lastly, Robinson described the role of Ripple Glass of Kansas City, Missouri, in that city. Ripple Glass supplies glass cullet to the fiberglass insulation industry and opened its processing plant in Kansas City in 2009. The supplier has 100 drop-off sites where glass is collected throughout the Kansas City area, she said. In a city that recently had a glass recycling rate of 5 percent, Kansas City expects to recycle about 37,000 tons of glass per year, increasing its glass recycling rate to 20 percent, Robinson said.

“This is a model we like and have been looking at,” Robinson said of Waste Management in regard to Ripple Glass’ collection and processing procedures.

Bucey said he gives Kansas City and Ripple Glass “kudos for taking on such a problem.”

While Ripple Glass has been supplying glass cullet to the fiberglass insulation industry for six years, Bucey said a decade ago the fiberglass industry did not use much recycled glass. It was when SMI actually initiated the conversations with that industry that interest grew, he said.

“We started working on the fiberglass market 10 year ago as fiberglass didn’t use recycled [glass] much,” Bucey said. Today, the fiberglass industry uses recycled glass “predominantly,” Bucey said.

Fiberglass is the second largest market for cullet, or recycled glass, while the container industry remains No. 1, Bucey said.

As various colors of glass were once a headache in the recycling industry, they aren’t now, he said. The next target will be to create a common definition as there is no industry specification for the required output of MRFs regarding glass. Bucey said, “It’s playing ‘hide the pea game’ with specifications.”

It will take continually working through these types of challenges to make the glass recycling industry successful. “Glass certainly isn’t going away. People like glass,” Bucey said.

Robison highlighted this when she showed a map displaying the manufacturers, recycled glass processors and recycling locations by geographic location on the Glass Resource Locator, a list compiled by and available on GPI’s website at www.gpi.org/glass-resource-locator. Dotted with various locations across the U.S., the Glass Resource Locator shows how regional glass recycling is in America.

GPI’s Bragg said, “Glass is listening.”

The 2015 Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference was at the Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile in Chicago. Next year’s conference will be Oct. 19-21 at the same venue. More information will be available at www.RecyclingTodayEvents.com as it is confirmed.