M-PASS Has the Answer for Business Owners — Recycling Glass, part 2

Last week we left off with the understanding that demand for glass continues to outpace the supply. How and where do we start to change glass recycling policies?
It’s not that difficult for residential areas because many places have designated recycling centers which accept glass.  (You can usually locate these through your local government).

That sounds easy enough but what about everybody else?
DIY recycling isn’t feasible for everyone due to the potential of large volumes of recycling and the time needed for busy companies to take their glass to a designated center — if there even is one in their area.

Recycled glass can be processed into products as diverse as landscaping rocks and aquarium chips

The alcoholic beverage industry uses over fifty percent of all glass containers, with the majority most likely coming from bars, restaurants, and hotels where beverages are consumed on the premises. It’s difficult to even imagine the huge volume of recyclable glass these businesses can generate.

  • As mentioned in the first part of this discussion Nashville, Tennessee can generate up to 1500 used bottles per hour on a busy night
  • And after North Carolina passed a 2008 law requiring Alcohol Beverage Permit holders to recycle their beverage containers, the number of glass bottles recovered for recycling almost doubled over only the next three years.
    (source: Glass Packaging Institute)

What a huge opportunity for the hospitality & food services industry and other companies to be leaders of a renewed, energized effort to reuse this ageless natural product.

But we’re back to how to solve the problem of separating out the good, reusable glass. The processors do want glass. One of two things must happen to get glass to the processors.  Recycling collection companies must run a dedicated glass route or manually sort what they pick up and do so without losing money in their operation. 

Even though they realized the potential obstacles, M-PASS Environmental wanted to find an answer to help businesses and property management companies recycle glass in the Atlanta metro area.

“A number of forces are still working against us,” said M-PASS General Manager Chris Witherspoon. “For example, states with higher tipping fees (fees charged per load at landfills) are more motivated to separate glass and truck it to a processor. For example, disposal rates at North Carolina’s landfills are double the rates in Georgia. And North Carolina’s collection rates of recyclable glass reflect that difference.”

Okay, now I better understand the issues. But isn’t there any good news about a solution?
Yes! For residential recycling, find out if your collection company sorts out glass and, if not, where you can drop off your glass. (My neighbors and I coordinate so we each only have to make a trip to our county recycling site every other month).

Businesses have another option – and they don’t have to take anything anywhere.

M-PASS Glass Recycling Bin

In February of this year, M-PASS took the lead in glass recycling solutions in the Atlanta area when they began offering a single stream or dual stream recycling program that includes glass.

“This means we can accept glass from our clients because our glass is manually separated and sorted, enabling it to skip the MRF recycling step and go directly to a glass recycling company instead. We are able to do this by partnering with a company that does the manual separation and then sells the product directly to the glass processor,” explained President and Founder Lorraine White. “It has already had a financial benefit for our clients because it means they have less trash to dispose of. Of course, the financial benefit can be greater for companies that generate a greater amount of recyclable materials.”

Here’s the equation: recycling glass = more jobs + energy savings +
greater financial benefit to companies who recycle glass

“It’s no surprise that M-PASS has worked to be at the front of this issue in Georgia,” White continued. “We are recognized in our industry for our ability to analyze a situation, find solutions, and reduce operating expenses. We are also eager to cooperate, and often provide consulting services for other companies in the industry.”

Glass is not going away … neither is M-PASS

 

 

It’s Very Clear … We Should Be Recycling Glass

We all most likely handle some type of glass several times a day without thinking about what this material actually is. Glass has been around for thousands of years and from its beginnings has been made primarily with natural elements – sand, limestone, soda ash, and various additives, including those used to color brown, green or blue bottles.

The basic recipe for glass is still the same, but one thing in the mix has changed – the percentage of cullet (crushed recycled glass) used in glass production today. Glass can be recycled endlessly with no loss in quality or purity and can be substituted for up to 95% of raw materials.

While a glass bottle may have been the first thing many of us put in a recycling bin (or took back to the store to get our deposit back), the process of recycling glass has changed over the last few years. It’s really simple: we have glass and there are companies who want glass to process into new containers. Then why does it seem like it’s gotten so complicated? I decided to see if I could simplify things – for myself as well as others.

Processed recycled glass

Why should we recycle glass?
In addition to the fact that glass can live on and on and easily be re-made for different purposes, recycling glass has many other benefits, including

  • Saving natural resources (over a ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of glass recycled)
  • Reducing energy costs
  • Reducing carbon dioxide production
  • Providing opportunities for employment at glass processing facilities

 So what happens to the recycled glass? Who uses it?
An estimated 80% of all glass containers recovered for recycling are re-melted and find new life primarily in new glass containers and fiberglass. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, these two industries collectively purchase 3 million tons of recycled glass annually, which becomes the new containers or fiberglass products.

 Why can’t I put glass in my recycling bin any longer?
This answer depends on who is collecting the recycling. Most of us have Single-Stream Collection at our homes and businesses (all recyclable material are put into the same bin). The responsibility of the collection company is to collect and deliver the single-stream recycling to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where everything is processed together by automated sorting equipment. When that happens, the unseparated glass breaks and degrades, losing its value to a glass recycling processor.

It is not because glass can no longer be recycled. In fact the
demand for recycled glass continues to outpace the supply.

Glass recycling is further complicated because guidelines differ from state to state and city to city. In the Atlanta area, for example, glass recycling has essentially become non-existent. Hauling companies and cart service collection companies began eliminating glass from their acceptable materials lists in late 2015 and 2016 because recycling processing facilities stopped accepting glass due to complications in processing glass as a component of a mixed stream.

In contrast, in July of this year, DeKalb County discontinued the placement of glass in curbside single-stream recycling, instead offering its residents county-operated glass recycling drop-off locations featuring a glass separation process. By doing this, DeKalb became the first county in Georgia to offer an official glass recycling drop-off program in an urban area. This program is ideal for residential glass but not necessarily for commercial businesses.

Glass in the landfill

High costs also complicate things, at least in the initial stages of investment. For example, Nashville just announced it will spend $400,000 to start collecting glass bottles for recycling from downtown bars. They are making a big investment, but a worthwhile one. According to Nashville Public Radio, it’s estimated that one of the larger bars in Nashville may go through up to 1,500 glass bottles an hour on busy nights. That’s right: 1,500 AN HOUR.

Where do all the unrecycled bottles end up?
In landfills, of course – where it can take one million years for a glass bottle to decompose. Glass is a hardy material – haven’t you ever wondered how it’s possible we still have glass artifacts from Egypt and other ancient civilizations?


As Atlanta’s population continues to grow, the city is looking for cost-effective solutions to the challenges of recycling glass, including equipment upgrades as well as the development of drop off sites.

 “Georgia is home to eight manufacturing locations that use recycled glass as a material,
providing employment to more than 1300 people. A city the size of Atlanta
can influence all the cities around it.”
—-Bill Clark of Strategic Materials,
the premier supplier of glass cullet to the container industry

The market and the product are here; how can we do more in Georgia and the Atlanta area – whether through government or private companies?

Watch for Part Two next week…

Contact us about Glass Recycling

Contact Us

Going Into the Trash for a Good Cause

You might mistake Elizabeth Rowe for a college student even though she graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, two years ago. Her first job after graduation – sustainability fellow in the college’s Center for Sustainability. At the Center she helps guide the college in their mission “to balance what the college takes from and returns to the world’s natural resources.”

M-PASS has been working in partnership with Agnes Scott since the college’s first audit in 2010.

This summer, while many students and recent graduates were sunning on beaches, Elizabeth and M-PASS’s Chris Witherspoon went “dumpster diving” behind the campus dining hall.

We asked staff writer Frances Kidd to talk to Elizabeth about her afternoon in the trash.

Frances: Well, the first question is WHY?
Elizabeth:  “When I asked a student intern to review their most recent audit report from M-PASS, I was concerned that the estimates were off because they seemed lower than they should have been. When I called Chris to ask about it, his response was “Let’s go look.”

Note: M-PASS does not charge extra for dumpster “dives.” They are part of the company’s regular client services – they  are always willing and able to assess the specific customer situation and evaluate if a new stream is introduced, or if the client can improve their separation process.

FK: And did you immediately agree?
ER: Immediately … but reluctantly. But when Chris said, “Normally we can get most information from the M-PASS audit process so we don’t have to get into the trash frequently. But — if you really want to know, we need to get down and dirty.” And I said, “Okay, let’s dive. If M-PASS is willing to get into the trash with us, I’m willing.”

FK: What happened when you got out there?
ER: Well, fortunately, I didn’t actually have to climb into the dumpster. We picked an afternoon just before a regular pick-up day so the dumpster would be full. Chris rummaged through the top layer to get a sense of what was in there. Then he pulled out a number of garbage bags and we spent the next hour or so pulling stuff out and laying it on a tarpaulin on the ground nearby so we could see what was there.

FK: What did you find?
ER: We did find some non-recyclable, non-compostable things mixed in with the regular trash. If wasn’t overwhelming, but we did learn that we need to continue to work closely with the personnel from our different departments. Often it’s as simple as a reminder to keep an eye on how their trash can be sorted.

FK: Was it just the two of you and that big dumpster?
ER: Actually, a few students and even a professor walked by and helped with the sorting for a while. The staff, faculty and students all support our recycling efforts. But I think they were amazed to see it in action that afternoon.

FK: A couple of final questions before we let you go: Were there any lingering effects from your efforts?
ER: I had food on me for sure. While I didn’t notice any smells, my boss gently suggested that I might want to leave early that day.

FK: And, would you dive in again?
ER: I would. And I probably will a few more times this year if I need to. Even though we have all the right practices in place, we have to continue to be vigilant to ensure we’re doing our best.

Our campus in downtown Decatur is very active – a lot of people live here, work and visit. So we need to make sure that we continue to educate new members of our community, because what we can’t recycle or compost goes to the Seminole Road Landfill in Ellenwood, Georgia. We really appreciate our partnership with M-PASS as they continue to help us keep down our contributions to the landfill.

China’s “Green Fence” is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market

It doesn’t rival the Great Wall in historic and cultural impact, but China’s “Green Fence” is having a dramatic economic impact on the plastics recycling market.

It’s no longer big news that recycling generates substantial economic, as well as environmental, benefits to our society. In April of this year, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) released the results of a study highlighting the impact of the U.S. scrap recycling industry.

According to the ISRI study, the recycling industry is responsible for more than 534,500 direct and indirect jobs in the U.S. and generates more than $13.2 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue annually. The study also reveals the scrap recycling industry provides for 0.63 percent of the national’s total economic activity. In the state of Georgia alone, that translates into a $4 billion impact on the state’s economy and well over 20,000 jobs.

It’s also not big news that our world is linked together in a global economy more than ever before. And today, the recycling industry is a big contributor to that global economy. This is clearly illustrated by the current relationship between China and the U.S. recycling industry.

For the last decade, recyclables have been one of the United States’ largest exports to China.

It made good sense – shipping containers would arrive from China filled with manufactured goods and instead of making the return trip completely empty, the containers went back full of recyclable materials.

Things started to change in 2013, as Chinese authorities became increasingly concerned about the growing amount of contaminated recyclable materials entering their country. That year, Chinese Customs officials put up the first “Green Fence,” an aggressive enforcement of existing regulations on inspections to weed out contaminated waste materials.

Early this year, China introduced a renewed effort (also referred to as the “National Sword campaign”), which again intensifies the inspection of the waste materials entering their county. While we don’t know how long the stricter enforcement will be in effect (possibly as long as a year), we have to prepare for its continued impact on the economic future of the recycling industry – and especially the plastics market.

The recycling industry has always had to deal with quality issues in collected materials, and money is already being invested in the U.S. in new recycling facilities. The end result? Greater efficiency, but also the possibility of less advantageous financial benefits to the consumer.

As the Industry continues to evolve, M-PASS is also evolving, developing new ways to help our clients adjust to changing markets and policies. We are no longer relying solely on exporting materials, but are making an investment in the development of new secondary and tertiary programs which will involve different technologies as well as different destinations for our recyclable materials.

While alleviating these problems, however, these solutions are likely to impact the economic benefits to our clients.
M-PASS
General Manager Chris Witherspoon explains: “With the over-supply domestically, pricing nationwide is expected to go down fairly dramatically, leading to reduction in the rebates our clients have become accustomed to.”

Even with these challenges, recycling is still the most viable way to manage our waste stream and avoid increasing the size and number of landfills around the country – and the world. But as a result of China’s actions, the industry will be forced to make extensive changes.

M-PASS is preparing for change and will maintain our high level of service and effectiveness. We will continue to produce significant savings by helping our clients become more sustainable through our proprietary 30-step audit process and through consumer education.

Our industry has made great advances since the first time we saw this now-iconic symbol in 1970.

And we can’t slack off now. But let’s end this on a positive note from Waste 360:

“If the Green Fence did anything, it created an opportunity for the recycling industry and municipalities to evaluate policies and practices and adjust to changing markets. Specifically, it’s time for recyclers to challenge the existing collection and sorting models and take a long, hard look at problem materials to figure out a better way to collect and process materials for recycling.”

We will keep you up to date as this situation changes; or check MPASSEnvironmental.com for new developments.

Sources:
Recycling Today
ISRI Study
Waste 360