GREENSBORO — The city of Greensboro believes there are tons of good reasons for residents to stop recycling glass.
And the ban on bottles could shatter a few assumptions about how the process works, city officials say.
So they’re rolling out a campaign to tell residents what to do with their bottles and why it has to be done.
But some residents are shocked that the city will no longer accept what they’ve considered one of the centerpieces of the recycling movement.
Based purely on calls to the News & Record, many people are more concerned about the change in recycling than the proposed 3 cent property tax increase in this year’s city budget.
The city said it will soon announce two drop-off points where the most motivated people can take their glass for recycling. But it won’t be as convenient as curbside recycling, city officials admit.
On July 1, city officials say, you should stop putting glass into recycle bins and put it in the trash. You can do it sooner if you wish, they said, to get the changes going now.
They note that a separate program is still recycling all of the bottles from restaurants and bars with ABC liquor licenses.
It all comes down to cost and contamination.
Greensboro recycles paper, plastic, metal and glass from a “single stream.” All materials are collected in a single bin, trucked to a recycling center on Patton Avenue and separated into groups of materials by workers and machines.
Taking glass out of that stream would reduce two problems: The growing cost of recycling and the ongoing problem of contamination, city officials say.
Part of the reason contamination is a problem is that people throw things into recycling that they shouldn’t: plastic bags, plastic utensils, even tampon applicators. (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. 2:55 p.m., June 4.)
All those bad plastics get hung up with glass when the machines try to separate it and they create an ugly pile of glass mixed with contaminants, said Tori Carle, Greensboro’s waste-reduction supervisor.
“When it comes from residential, it’s extremely dirty and gross and costly for the glass company to clean and melt it down,” Carle said.
Here’s what’s happening:
- The market for recycled goods has changed. So Republic Services, which recycles Greensboro’s 25,000 tons per year of paper, plastic, metal and glass, will begin next month charging the city $30 a ton for hauling and processing its recyclable materials. That fee will rise slowly in the next three years until it is $90 a ton by 2022.
- The Greensboro City Council is considering a budget that includes a new $2.50 “monthly household availability fee” that will cover increasing costs for solid waste disposal and recycling. The fee will raise about $2.7 million a year, more than enough to cover the rising costs of recycling under the contract.
- To cut the cost of recycling as fees to Republic rise, Greensboro will ban some materials from its recycling program beginning July 1, most notably, glass. Other banned materials include pots and pans, hard plastic items like chairs and buckets, cartons and shredded paper.
Carle said that glass accounts for 25 percent of the weight of recyclable materials. Related contamination collected with glass accounts for another 25 percent. The city’s goal is to cut glass out of the stream and dramatically reduce the cost of recycling.
It also contributes to contamination of other recyclables, she said, because food is left in glass containers and glass also gets stuck on paper and mixes with metal and plastic. For example, glass shards also often get mixed in with paper. When paper recyclers make pulp out of the contaminated paper, glass collects in the bottom of pulp tanks and is eventually sent to landfills, Carle said.
“It is considered contamination — it’s so low value and it’s very labor intensive to separate,” she said.
Separating glass from other materials at the beginning of the process would solve contamination problems and likely bring in less glass mixed with food contamination. But that would require a completely new process for Greensboro’s solid waste removal, a process that already sends four city trucks a month to each household, Carle said.
Every two weeks, the city sends a recycling truck and a bulk waste truck to each home and garbage and yard-waste trucks weekly.
Creating a way for existing trucks to carry glass separately or adding a separate glass truck to the process would cost millions, Carle said.
“My reaction is deep concern,” said Gerald Leimenstoll, a local architect who has been active in community-development issues here since the early 1980s.
An avowed environmentalist who believes what we do at the local level affects the entire globe, Leimenstoll believes the city is making a shortsighted decision based more on money concerns than attention to what tons of glass will do to landfills.
Carle said glass is the least toxic thing you can put in a landfill, but Leimenstoll said he is worried about the pure volume of that glass filling up the land we use to dispose of trash.
“I’m really concerned that city council just seems to take the shortest route possible and never think about what it means beyond a very limited scope,” he said. “This glass is going to be in the ground for a long time. And why? There are ways to deal with this.”
“I don’t believe there’s a magic bullet or silver bullet or one single way to deal with this, but this is a community and the community should get involved with the city council and find a solution in a global way,” Leimenstoll said.
(Prescription bottles are still on the list of materials that can be recycled in Greensboro. Incorrect information was given in a story posted June 3 about changes in Greensboro's recycling program.)