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[GreenYes] Re: [GRRN] GLASS recycling / What makes sense to recycle
Dear Michelle / Terri:

I apologize for the late entry in this discussion but I have a few more
items to add:

With respect to the narrower issue of glass recycling:

1. In some cases adding materials to an existing collection stream can be
justified because of lower marginal costs.  In my opinion, glass is a very
big exception.  Because of the breakage problem, if you want to maximize
your sortable glass recovery (in order to maximize material revenues from
the collected stream) you need to either collect the stream that includes
the glass on a uncompacted basis (lowering overall collection densities and
therefore driving up collection costs) or use a lighter compaction ratio
than you could if you had no glass (again, driving up collection costs).
One possible solution is what I call a modified 2 stream collection approach
where one stream is all compactable recyclables (fiber and non-fiber) and
the other stream is uncompacted mixed glass.  I seem to remember, for
example,  this approach being used by Rabanco in Seattle (I don't know if
they still do).  The other, more prevalent alternative I have seen used is
to collect all recyclables except glass in a single stream and collect the
glass through an alternative collection channel such as drop-off centers.
short, glass is a major pain to collect.

2. In my opinion, glass is an  expensive commodity to process through a MRF
because, unlike any other commodity, you need two recovery systems - one for
sortable containers and one for mixed broken - in order to minimize process
residues and maximize recovery yields.  There is also a significant
maintenance expense incurred by processing glass due to the high abrasion
rates from broken shards and fines. I don't think a single MRF operator
would shed a tear if glass disappeared from their process streams since it
would eliminate a significant O&M expense line item.

Now for the bigger picture.

We are obligated to deliver environmentally beneficially services (such as
recycling) in an economically efficient manner.  As part determining this,
we often (or should) consider the impacts of sacrificing short term gains
for long term gains as well as the reverse.  What I believe hobbles our
discussion of recycling programs economics is that many municipal recycling
professionals are loathe to admit that certain materials are not worth
recycling due to their unfavorable short term marginal cost / benefits out
of fear of triggering a slippery slope descent into a world where only
aluminum cans and newspapers are recovered.  There is, furthermore, a
constituency who believes that recycling is always justified, regardless of
the short term economic costs, on the basis of estimated long term social /
environmental benefits and ethical / moral principles, as long as we can
afford to pay these costs because we are obligated by these principles to
pay them.  Finally, there is the practical issue that you can't add / remove
materials from a recycling collection program scope on a frequent basis
without doing damage to overall public support and participation.  However,
the result is that, while we (meaning municipal recyclers) do talk about
doing "more with less" we often never take the public lead in discussing
where it may make sense to cut back on a program's scope.

This, unfortunately, makes municipal recycling vulnerable to the charge that
it is being pursued on a "whatever it costs we'll do it" basis that drains
public and private financial resources from other pressing social needs such
as schools, libraries, police protection, etc. This argument gains
sustenance from the suspicion of many taxpayers that their tax dollars are
always being wasted and because many may not place recycling on the same
value scale as we do, they are receptive to the claim that recycling is one
those reasons.  Obviously, one course of action is to persuade as many as
possible to subscribe to those principles that we hold to, but we should
understand that for some that day is not yet here and for some others that
day will never come.  So, in the meantime, we need to address the realities
of what we need to do to maintain maximum practical support for municipal
recycling programs recycling while exercising our fiduciary responsibilities
of using
our resources most effectively in carrying out these programs.

Here are my suggestions:

1. We should acknowledge that there are no sacred municipal recycling cows.
everything works or should be done.

2. We should be in the lead in managing the public dialogue on what works
and what doesn't including identifying and explaining the reasons underlying
either position.  In other words, we should be the ones who are constantly
and publicly
re-examining what works and what doesn't with respect to what gets recovered
and we should be the ones who point out first what may not make sense to do
as public policy.  Otherwise, we have the situation we have now where
organizations with agendas that are antithetical to municipal recycling take
this leadership position under the banner of protecting the taxpayer's
wallet and places us in an unfavorable position of defending
municipal recycling and making us appear as though we are more interested in
protecting our sacred program cows and bureaucratic turf than doing what is
right socially, economically and morally.

3. We need to do a better job of briefing our legislative bodies and the
public on how we are successfully figuring out on an ongoing basis how to
do "more with less". This discussion is still too confined to our
networks.  The result is that again, those who oppose municipal recycling
control the discussion by doing a good job of disseminating data that is old
misleading in support of their positions while we are constantly playing
catch-up in defensive replies.  There is a leading edge to municipal
recycling and we need to make that as accessible as possible to the
non-professional public.


Roger M. Guttentag

----- Original Message -----
From: Steen, Terri - Contractor <>
To: multiple recipients of <>
Cc: 'Michele Raymond' <>
Sent: Monday, June 11, 2001 9:28 AM
Subject: RE: [GRRN] GLASS recycling

> Michele,
> I'm sure you're correct in your statistics, but what about the principle
> the thing?  I think we should continue to collect and recycle glass
> it's wasteful to throw things in landfills that can be recovered and
> If and when we do run out of sand (only partly kidding here) it will be
> more expensive to mine landfills for glass to make more sand --  it's the
> same environmental ethic that supports conservation of fossil fuels and
> energy efficiency BEFORE we really need it.
> Besides, if a city or jurisdiction collects more commodities, doesn't the
> incremental cost of collecting each one go down?
> I think the markets for post-consumer glass need to be strengthened, as do
> markets for plastics and paper.
> My two cents,
> Terri
>  -----Original Message-----
> From: Michele Raymond []
> Sent: Monday, June 11, 2001 9:02 AM
> To: multiple recipients of
> Subject: [GRRN] GLASS recycling
> I hate to sound negative about glass but:
> 1. Glass is only 2% of landfills when you look at volume!!!
> 2. We are not running out of sand.
> I think cities spend too many resource trying to recycle glass.  It makes
> sense if you are in a geographic area near a plant.
> Otherwise, the resources need to be put into solutions for recovery of
> plastics, as that is the direction industry is going, like it or not.
> The glass industry is losing market share anyway -- I don't think there
> should be any regulations on glass.
> Look at plastics in terms of VOLUME and you see a different picture in
> landfills.
> EPA rarely breaks out the volume picture.
> Good luck
> Michele
> Michele Raymond
> Publisher
> Recycling Laws International/ State Recycling Laws Update
> 5111 Berwyn Rd. Ste 115 College Park, MD 20740)
> 301/345-4237   Fax 345-4768

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