Single-Stream Glass Recycling: We Can Do Better!

Confused about single-stream recycling? You’re not alone. Since Westport went to this method, there seem to be more questions than answers.

Environmentally conscious Staples High School junior George Nelson sent these thoughts to “06880”:

In the 1970s, recycling became a common American practice. To many, it’s a way of being environmentally friendly. When people recycle they believe they are doing the earth and their community justice. But your recycling may not end up where you think it does.

In fact, the United States is actually going backwards. Across the nation, dozens of communities are completely ending their recycling programs. This results in more garbage buried or burned.

The reason? It has become too expensive for some towns to afford. China — once the US’ #1 customer of recycling waste — no longer accepts used plastics, glass, metal, cardboard and paper, due to high levels of contamination.

This caused recycling prices to skyrocket. In some cities, recycling costs have nearly quadrupled since last year.

In Westport we are lucky enough to continue recycling, though at great expense (up to $65 a ton). Our town produces 3,300 tons of recyclable waste annually. However, not all of that waste is actually recycled.

Single stream recycling

Single-stream means that all recyclables — paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, metal cans, etc. — go into one bin. This is much easier for residents than separating recyclables into different bins. When Westport changed from separating different types of recycling to single stream, the rate of recycling increased by over 30%.

Although this is the easiest way to recycle, it leads to an abundance of contamination, such as plastic bags and styrofoam being put in recycling bin. Even more problematic is when particles of broken glass end up in paper and cardboard, rendering them useless as recyclables.

Nearly 25% of single-stream recycling goes to the incinerator. That figure can reach 40% for glass recyclables. What is so frustrating is that glass is one of the best recyclable materials. It can be continuously recycled and reused in its original form, through a relatively easy process.

When glass is recycled it is brought to a recycling facility. Once there, it is smashed into tiny pieces and sorted by color by an infrared light.

The glass is then washed. The broken, sorted glass is then shipped to yet another facility, where it is melted down and finally ready to be reused. Most of the glass is remade into other glass products such as bottles or jars. Some recycled glass is used in asphalt for roads, or mixed with beach sand to prevent erosion.

Separating single-stream recycling.

Although it’s most common, single-stream recycling is not the best option for glass. Westporters must make a better effort to recycle glass.

One way is to bring glass-redeemable bottles (beer, soda) to a deposit redemption machine at grocery stores, or a redemption center.

Another is to wash and reuse glass bottles and jars.

If you do continue recycling glass single stream, make sure to clean the glass and place it in the bin in one piece.

NOTE: The Sustainable Westport Advisory Team (formerly the Westport Green Task Force), whose mission is to support Westport’s goal to be a sustainable, thriving community, will promote waste reduction at the Maker Faire April 27. Look for the zero waste stations, and the Sustainable Westport “Maker” table.

5 responses to “Single-Stream Glass Recycling: We Can Do Better!

  1. Arline Gertzoff

    There is a far simpler solution for glassFor more than 30 years EU countries have glass only collection domes in every neighborhood.One just puts your glass in them and finished.If Goodwill and Salvation Army Have collection structures just erect glass only structures.They could be at the supermarket parking lot or near a package store .If a city of 2 million like Brussels can get people to put their glass in a dome surly a small town can.All plastic bags are banned in EU and people bring their own surely we can too .

  2. How about as a town, we just start separating recyclables again – it’s easy and importand

  3. Thanks to George Nelson for this explanation. Westport is part of a 14-town consortium for solid waste disposal; we now have to rethink our recycling protocols to get some clear info for the public.

  4. Liz Doyle Boyd

    How lazy are we, that we can not separate paper, plastic and glass…oh Americans….

  5. Redding and other towns who are serviced by HRRA (Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority) have a new program for glass, it does require residents to separate it out. https://hrra.org/glass-recycling/

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