Which Bin is for Glass Again?

Which Bin is for Glass Again?

Glass is increasingly being rejected from curbside single-stream recycling programs, prompting consumers to question whether recycling is truly worth their time. However, more and more businesses – such as bars – are engaging in multiple-stream recycling, sorting bottles from cans at the point of consumption. With the challenges of single-stream recycling and the growing rejection of mixed paper and other recyclables by China and other historical export destinations, will glass recovery continue to expand?

Message in a Bottle

With the rising success of products such as Starbucks bottled cold beverages, glass is seeing continued use in many beverage segments. While suppliers of other beverages, most notably beer, are increasingly using aluminum containers, US consumers are expected to continue to generate a significant amount of glass waste. In fact, the rate of generation is expected to exceed the rate of recovery, if only marginally, due to ongoing challenges with recovery and recycling.

The explanation for this is twofold:

  • First, many municipal recycling programs have changed their rules to forbid glass in curbside recycling programs due to limitations such as an inability to properly sort paper from glass, the difficulty in sorting glass colors, and the tendency of glass containers to shatter.
  • Second, the trade war between the US and China has prompted China to grow stricter in relation to imports of mixed solid waste, further limiting demand for the collection of glass domestically.

Through the Looking Glass

Though many cities have ended curbside glass collection, some communities – such as Fairfax County in Virginia – continue to make efforts to recycle glass. Fairfax County is seeing success in new programs involving bins provided by a local glass processor, Strategic Materials. The bins are located at various business locations throughout the community, enabling many county residents to properly recycle their glass. This glass is shipped to a facility in North Carolina and processed before being sold off to other companies. Clearly, the demand still exists.

However, the events of the trade war between the US and China in addition to existing Chinese policies for the reduction of solid waste importation have all but destroyed the country’s demand for US recovered glass, paper, and other recyclables.

Though demand for US recovered glass in export markets is effectively nonexistent, there are a variety of applications for recovered glass domestically. In addition to reuse in glass packaging manufacturing, recovered glass is used in abrasives, aggregate substitutes, decorative tile, fiberglass insulation, glassphalt, and sandblasting base. Partly driving the use of recycled glass in building products is a provision in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED certifications, a program established by the US Green Building Council), that grants points for building with materials containing recycled content. Demand for recovered glass from a variety of applications and the cost savings of using recycled glass will help motivate stakeholders to improve the glass recovery system and make use of this valuable resource.

Want to Learn More About Recycling?

Don’t worry, we have you covered! For additional information and analysis of US industry trends, see Recovered Glass: United States, a report published by the Freedonia Focus Reports division of The Freedonia Group. This report forecasts to 2023 US recovery of post-consumer glass from the US municipal solid waste (MSW) stream in short tons. For comparison, this report also forecasts to 2023 the total generation of post-consumer glass in the MSW stream. Total post-consumer glass recovery and generation are segmented by source product in terms of:

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

To illustrate historical trends, total glass recovery, generation, and the various segments are provided in annual series from 2008 to 2018.

Pre-consumer glass (e.g., finished glass that breaks at a bottling or distribution facility) is excluded. The annual volume of glass recovered in the US from durable goods (e.g., appliances, furniture, and electronics) is negligible, and is therefore not included in total recovered glass. Throughout this report, measures in tons refer to short tons.

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About the Author

Chris Dyer is a Market Research Analyst for Freedonia Focus Reports. He holds a Master of Arts in Security Studies, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.