New York Could Benefit From Better Recycling Structure

The recent story, Legislators Want Study Of Glass Recycling, mischaracterizes the state of recycling and end markets for glass in New York. It is important to cut through misinformation, as it is confusing for the public and policymakers.

While the glass recycling and manufacturing industries are encouraged by the interest expressed from state officials on glass recycling initiatives and end markets, we should start from a shared common understand of the current state. For glass, there are two overarching recycling systems in the state: the beverage container deposit program stream, and residential curbside (mainly, single-bin) recycling.

These streams produce vastly different material qualities, and therefore usually have different values and end-markets. Food and beverage container glass in New York has strong end-markets, and there are several glass container manufacturing facilities in or near the state who want more recycled glass for use in making new products.

Though much of the entire US domestic recycling system remains under stress, it is important to know that recycled glass was never exported to China, or nearby recycling end markets. That largely now closed-off export market was limited to paper, plastics and some ferrous and non-ferrous metals. End markets for recycled glass are domestic – they always have been and remain that way.

As a beverage container deposit state, New York has a much higher glass container recycling rate and recovery rate than the majority of the country. New York is ahead of the game when it comes to glass recycling, and a strong demand exists for New York’s recycled glass.

The primary issue for glass (and many other recyclables) collected in a single bin program is reduced value, due to the contamination that occurs, and the investments needing to be made, to clean and sort out the various recyclables so that may become suitable for end markets.

Jamestown, similar to many other communities in New York and across the country, have been told that there are “no markets” for recycled glass, and therefore, no value in collecting or recycling it. That’s simply not true — quality recycled glass has end markets, container and fiberglass insulation being the two primary ones.

It’s important to remember that nearly all recycled material placed in a bin, or redeemed through a beverage container deposit program, are manufacturing inputs, substituted for raw materials. In glass’ case, nothing special needs to be done to make this happen- it just needs to be separated from trash and other non-recyclables materials throughout the process.

Finally, while there is no harm in studying alternative end markets for recycled glass via legislation, the smarter move would be to improve current recycling system, connected sorting capabilities, and ultimate fate of the glass collected.

Scott DeFife is the President of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI).


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