Misinformation surrounds the value of recycling glass, and the Pennsylvania Resources Council and its partners want to correct that as they work to add more collections of it and improve the region’s environment.
Doing so involves dispelling two big myths:
First myth: No market exists for glass recycling, especially in Western Pennsylvania, so why bother adding it back in to residential trash collections?
Not true, and in fact two glass manufacturing plants that can use the collected material are within easy driving distance of the region, in addition to plants in nearby states.
Second myth: No convenient method to recycle glass exists here for residents, especially apartment dwellers.
No, anyone can do it. It just takes some effort, sorting and collecting items and then driving them to drop-off sites, to do it right now. That may get easier in the near future, with maybe — just maybe — curbside collections starting again.
The PRC, Michael Brothers Hauling and Recycling, and CAP Glass Inc. sent an open letter to local communities and governments on March 1 to stress a strong regional manufacturing industry that uses recycled glass exists in the region and beyond and to consider making glass recycling more convenient again. Some governmental bodies now have the opportunity to add glass back into curbside recycling, the letter stated, enabling their residents to “participate in a truly local circular economy … so long as they can get their glass bottle into the right bin.”
Sarah Alessio Shea, deputy director of the PRC, connects the confusion over glass recycling to the fact that so many changes have occurred, according to the letter, since January 2019, which dealt “a hard blow to the public’s trust in the recycling system.”
Waste Management’s Public Affairs Coordinator Erika Deyarmin Young agrees, noting that her company’s initial efforts to remove glass from its recycling contracts were driven by policy changes from China. But it’s different in 2023. “Since these changes went into effect in 2018,” she wrote in an email, “recycling markets across the world developed and evolved, and we have seen new markets develop in North America.”
PRC held a roundtable in February with local leaders after a number of municipalities, mainly in the North Hills, started working on getting glass back into their curbside recycling collections. “We were getting a lot of calls [about this],” Shea said. “We felt there was a gap in understanding.”
The roundtable included PRC and its partners along with Owens-Illinois Inc., a giant glass manufacturing company that has two plants in close proximity, one in St. Marys, Pa., and the other in Zanesville, Ohio. “A lot of the glass that is collected [here] gets turned into bottles in its facilities,” Shea said. “It is continually looking for ways to raise the recycled glass content in their bottles.” By 2030, she added, Owens-Illinois wants to increase the recycled glass content it includes in its production work by 50%.
So the PRC and its partners sent the letter to expand the discussion and help elected officials make the best decisions about recycling for their communities.
Right now one option for residents is to take their glass items to Michael Brothers recycling sites in the South Hills or Reserve or the three current drop-off sites organized by six municipalities in a collaborative with PRC and funded partially by a Pennsylvania Department of Resource Protection grant. Those are located in Moon and McCandless and another in Village Square, Bethel Park, for Dormont, Bethel Park, Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon residents.
The city of Pittsburgh has its own drop-off sites, one at Construction Junction in the East End and another in the Strip District.
The other option is seeking out a PRC mobile collection program with its traveling bin, held in conjunction with Allegheny County and other municipalities. Twelve have been scheduled so far this year, and they can be arranged on a weeklong basis, Shea said. PRC charges $900 for a new site, $850 for a recurring one, and if a municipality does four or more per year, $750.
Once the bins fill up, Michael Brothers hauls the glass to CAP Glass in Mount Pleasant. Once it’s there, CAP sorts, cleans and prepares the glass for regional glass product manufacturers, according to the PRC website.
All colors of glass bottles, jars and jugs can be recycled through this system. PRC offers details on its website on exactly what glass can be collected.
The extra effort to sort out the glass helps the plastic and paper recycling, too, according to the PRC. Broken glass can contaminate those materials and vice versa. The glass collected in what’s called a single-stream recycling process just is not what glass manufacturers want or can use effectively and efficiently in their processes.
The statistics bear this out: 98-100% of glass recyclables can be recovered from drop-off sites versus 60-70% from the best single-stream operations.
The rising domestic market — and concern for the environment — pushes PRC and its partners to get more local governments and residents interested in and then committed to glass recycling again.
For its part, Waste Management is betting on its future, and it is making roughly $20 million in improvements, adding advanced sorting technology to its Material Recovery Facility on Neville Island. Young said, “Our new system will use advanced automated technology to help capture a cleaner stream across all commodities.” Construction work will begin this summer.
Waste Management is “excited to be sustainable partner” with the many communities it services in southwestern Pennsylvania, she said, and continues to work with it residential customers to add glass to the accepted recyclables it collects. Young said the company is seeing more bidding that includes glass as a recycling option. She did not have a current number of all the municipalities it contracts with in the Greater Pittsburgh region.
It also tries to educate customers with a brochure it mails to them, explaining how it collects trash and recyclables, and Young said glass should be added in to any community that has agreed to collect it. She said the company is also working with community partners to share information about it on social media, newsletters and other outlets. Plus it is training its customer experience representatives to answer recycling questions properly.
Young said Waste Management is always working toward sustainability, and details of its recycling efforts are included in its sustainability report, Young said.
“We are more than an environmental services company and are committed to creating a more sustainable world,” she said. “Across our business, we work to minimize our environmental impact by reducing carbon emissions across the value chain, investing in technology and automation that differentiates us, and helping to educate others to act more sustainably. We set aggressive sustainability goals and are on the road to achieving them.”
The March 1 letter noted that “PRC and our partners are committed to finding ways to keep drop-off site costs manageable so that communities can offer a variety of options for glass recycling.”
Shea said residents who want to make glass recycling more widespread in their communities need to reach out to their elected officials. They can indeed seek DEP grants, too, to get drop-off sites started. Those grants cover bins, signage and recycling instruction. It does not cover hauling costs, which is the most costly part of this, and she realizes it can be difficult for municipalities to cover the expense.
Until then, Shea stressed that sorting recyclables and taking glass to drop-off sites is valuable and not that difficult.
“Creating new habits for people — whether it’s collecting it in their home or taking it into a bin — once you do it, it becomes part of your day-to-day [routine],” she said.