A New Path for Glass Recycling

A New Path for Glass Recycling

Houston, Texas removed glass from its curbside recycling program back in March of 2016 as a result of increasing processing costs and budget constraints. Similar developments in other cities paint a glum picture for the future of the recovered glass industry. Or do they?

Houston has been joined by other cities, such as Knoxville, Tennessee, in the decision to drop glass from their curbside recycling programs. Similar developments in other locales have led some observers to argue this is the beginning of the end of the acceptance of glass in single-stream curbside recycling programs.

Many curbside recycling programs nationwide are single-stream systems, in which residents place all their recyclables in a single bin or cart for collection. These programs help increase participation rates, as they require less effort on the part of residents in comparison to multi-stream systems.

However, singe-stream programs have created issues for the material recovery facilities (MRFs) that process the collected materials. For example, glass is fragile and often breaks during collection or in the MRFs, making it more difficult to recover. A 2009 report by the Container Recycling Institute claims that up to 40% of glass collected via single-stream processes is ultimately sent to landfills. In addition, broken glass causes wear and tear on the machines and destroys other materials in the recycling stream.

Nevertheless, while participants in the recovered glass industry will continue to face difficulties, such as transportation costs and finding markets for their materials, the removal of glass from single-stream curbside programs may not be an issue the industry needs to worry about. Many of the cities that have eliminated glass from their curbside programs have continued to offer options for recycling glass via drop-off locations. While this approach to recycling may decrease participation rates, it ensures post-consumer glass is kept separate from the rest of the recycling stream, allowing for easier recovery and higher recovery rates for all materials.

Learn More

For more insights into the recovery of post-consumer glass from the US municipal solid waste stream, see Recovered Glass: United States, a report recently released by the Freedoina Focus Reports division of The Freedonia Group. The report includes post-consumer glass recovery and generation segmented by source product in 2006-2016 historical series with forecasts to 2021. Post-consumer glass recovery and generation are segmented by source product in terms of:

  • beer and soft drink bottles
  • wine and liquor bottles
  • other containers
  • durable goods (generation only).

For more reports on the US municipal solid waste stream and material recovery, check out:

About the Author

Luke Hickman is a Market Research Analyst for Freedonia Focus Reports. He holds a degree in economics, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.