This is a guide/case study with some main points outlining how the US might be able to increase glass recycling rates.
Summary – How The Us Might Be Able To Increase Glass Recycling Rates
- Only about one third of glass is recycled in the US annually – this is in comparison to a 90% recycling rate in other some countries
- This is also in comparison to some States within the US like SF that have a much higher recycling rate
- Some of the major reasons for the low national glass recycling rates might include – the availability of and quality of furnace ready cullet, the economics of making glass, mixing of (and contamination of) glass in single stream curbside waste collection and other problems with recycling systems, government policies (or a lack of policies), consumer habits, the size of the US and distance between material recovery facilities, cullet suppliers and buyers, and varying cullet specifications between different manufacturers
- A main solution to increasing the glass recycling rate might include more multi stream recycling programs that allow cleaner glass to go straight to cullet processors without being sorted (but these programs can be more expensive and require more consumer education – cost is often a barrier to upgrading from single stream). But, to do this, fees or taxes (or some type of subsidy) may need to be introduced for higher collection and handling costs
- Other potential solutions may involve streamlining cullet recovery and standardizing cullet specifications, investigating the utility of local and State based glass recycling processes, discouraging dumping of glass in landfill when recycling makes more sense, and policies/legislation that can assist in better glass recycling
- An important note though is that recycling glass comes with it’s own set of pros and cons – there needs to be an assessment of recycling glass put against dumping or incinerating it, and clearly showing the short and long term pros and cons of each approach
- Zooming out wider than these solutions – looking at the use of glass as a material, and other alternative materials could be a consideration
A Note On The Resources Mentioned In This Guide
- The guide extrapolates on, and paraphrases or uses direct relevant quotes from an existing article by Cen.acs.org. You can view the full article here – https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6
- The article listed by Recyclingtoday.com is also worth a read for an explanation of how glass recycling myths can be debunked, and what the right glass recycling equipment and facilities can do
- We’ve also linked to our own guide about some of the pros and cons of recycling in general at the bottom if you’d like to read more
The Current State Of US Glass Recycling
- [Currently, only about one third of the glass disposed of in the US gets recycled annually].
- [Comparatively] There is a 90% recycling rate [for glass] in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries
Note that this is a reflection of the national glass recycling picture in the US … cities and specific locations in the US like San Francisco may have much higher or lower recycling rates for different materials.
Benefits Of Recycling More Glass
- Cullet (a granular material made by crushing bottles and jars usually collected from recycling programs) benefits glassmakers, the environment, and consumers [in several different ways]
- Read about those ways and the estimates of these benefits in the original article
Potential Reasons For Current Glass Recycling Rates In The US (& Challenges & Difficulties)
- [The lack of glass recycling in the US is not because there is a lack of knowledge of how to do it]
- [Ultimately there’s many reasons more glass isn’t recycled … and these include] the interplay between the quality and availability of cullet and the economics of making glass, [and] differences [with other countries] in government policy and consumer education and habits
- More specific reasons include …
- … glassmakers are limited by what recycled material is available to them at a manageable cost [especially clean, furnace-ready cullet produced from single stream processing]. [Clean, furnace ready cullet is processed] inefficiently [in the US] compared with what happens in Europe
- … US municipalities manage residential recycling primarily via single-stream curbside collection [that mixes glass with other materials] … even non recyclables that incorrectly get thrown in the recycling bin … and contamination of glass can be a problem in this instance, along with sorting for material with commercial value]. [Roughly 40% of glass put in single stream recycling gets recycled compared to about 90% of glass put into multi stream recycling … and this mainly comes down to] the difference in the quality of glass from the two streams
- [Multi stream recycling is far] is simpler on the processing end [than single stream recycling because glass is separated by consumers from other recyclables into glass only bins]
- [A con to multi stream recycling is] a high level of consumer education [is usually required] and [it] is considerably more expensive than single-stream collection. [But, a couples of pros of multi stream recycling are that] the glass is much cleaner than what comes out of the single-stream supply, [and] glass can go straight to cullet processors [and skip sorting facilities]
- Single stream recycling is ultimately an inherently inefficient and expensive recycling method. But most municipalities in the US stick with single stream because the collection costs are lower than those with multi-stream systems
- Another reason is the size of the US, and distance between a materials recovery facility and a cullet supplier, or a cullet supplier and a buyer tend to be greater [than in European nations] … [and this presents an economic issue because transport is costly]
- Another reason is that costs of recovering cullet are impacted by cullet specifications that vary between manufacturers [because different suppliers need to meet the needs of different manufacturers]
- So, overall, we see costs and limited supply of cullet are an issue
How The US Might Increase Glass Recycling Rates
- Implementation of multi stream recycling that separates glass from other recyclable materials, and separates glass from non recyclables that incorrectly get put in the recycling bins at the consumer level and contaminate recyclable material
- Multi stream recycling can ultimately lead to ‘large quantities of high-quality cullet that are essential to further increase the recycled content in products’
- To switch to multi-stream systems, US municipalities would need to introduce taxes or fees to meet the higher collection and handling costs. And most municipalities are reluctant to do so.
- There would also need to be some type of subsidy to support transport of glass waste and cullet due to the distance between waste pickup locations, material recovery facilities, cullet suppliers, and buyers
- Finding a way to standardise or streamline cullet recovery and cullet specifications for suppliers and manufacturers would also help
- Local and state based glass recycling systems and facilities can help (recycling programs, cullet processors, suppliers, manufacturers, etc.)
- Making recycling more of a social and cultural norm through education and awareness can help
- Higher landfill costs can help – it discourages easy and convenient cheap dumping of glass into landfills, and encourages more recycling
- Where recycling is legislated can help – Europe legislates nationally and not locally
But, ultimately, all parties need to work together – the honus and expectation can’t just fall on waste collection companies, manufacturers, and suppliers via legislation… consumers, government and other parties have to help and do their part to change and support the systems as well.
Recyclingtoday.com also gives examples of how common glass recycling myths might be debunked, and how the right glass recycling equipment (which requires upgrading most of the current equipment and glass recycling facilities) can solve some glass recycling problems. Read more at https://www.recyclingtoday.com/article/busting-myths-about-glass-recycling/
The Pros & Cons Of Recycling In General
Not all materials and products make sense to recycle in general, and then of course recycling can have different pros and cons based on the country or city in question (different cities have different recycling and waste management systems and capabilities).
Read more about the various potential pros and cons of recycling to consider in this guide: