Photo: Contributed Photo / Contributed Photo
What is supposed to be a mound of glass at a local processing facility usually looks more like trash than recyclables. Bottle caps, shreds of paper, batteries and straws are often interspersed among the glass that will be sold.
But a proposal to recycle glass separate from the rest of the single stream recycling coming back to the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority on Friday is aimed to help prevent that by cleaning up the stream and making the materials more marketable. Advocates argue that the glass breaks throughout the recycling process, contaminating the other recyclables by attaching to fibers, paper and cardboard.
“Glass is very recyclable and glass has value when it’s separated, but glass in single stream is a contaminant,” said Jennnifer Heaton-Jones, executive director for the HRRA, which serves 11 towns in the Danbury area.
If approved, this will become the first pilot program in the state to take glass out of single stream. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection still must sign off on it. The authority discussed it at the last meeting but there wasn’t a quorum to vote.
Under the HRRA proposal, glass would have to be taken out of the single-stream recycling and brought to the transfer stations separately. Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling will bring the glass from the transfer stations to the glass processors.
Heaton-Jones said the glass also causes problems at the processing plants because the shards break down into a dust in the machines.
“It becomes an abrasive and wears (the equipment) down, costing the facility money,” Heaton-Jones said.
Heaton-Jones said the change has been in the works for about a year but there were several factors that got the authority to this point, including the passage of a public act this year that allows for municipalities to create these two-year pilot programs that separates glass from single stream.
A large factor was China’s decision to clean up what it collects, known as National Sword. The policy tightened its criteria on what materials it takes in, collecting only recyclables with only 0.5 percent contamination. China announced the policy in February 2017, with the strict enforcement of the contamination level beginning March 2018.
“It’s become more and more difficult and the cost has risen as well,” said Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi.
Haulers have to make up the difference of the decreased market value of the materials they’re collecting by increasing tipping fees at the front end. Tipping fees in some places of Connecticut are as high as $85 a ton.
“When I look at the situation I see doing nothing isn’t going to help our residents and municipalities,” Heaton-Jones said. “We have to have a solution and the solution is cleaning up the recycling.”
The HRRA’s contamination rate is at 20 percent now.
“The idea is to improve the quality of recycling and help to reduce the cost, or at least stop the increase, of recycling,” she said.
It’s estimated that clean glass has a value of $10 to $15 a ton.
Regional or town by town?
Members will decide on Friday whether to roll out the pilot program as an authority or on a town by town basis.
Robert Hanna, New Milford’s recycling manager, suggests one town test this out first. He worries rolling out an initiative like this in all 11 towns is too big of an undertaking. He suggested Danbury as the pilot because it has the most residents and largest collection of haulers so it would be a true pilot on whether or not the program works and get the kinks out.
“If that is a successful program, then expand it,” he said.
Hanna said he also worries that by requiring people to bring glass to the transfer station instead of allowing it in single stream will triple the amount of customers at New Milford’s facility. There are about 25,000 homes in Brookfield, Sherman and New Milford, which are all served at the site. He said that even if only 10 percent of these homes bring glass to the transfer station, it will greatly add to the 1,200 or so customers that it averages a week.
Hanna also worries that requiring people to remove glass will result in some people separating it, others continuing to put it in single stream and others who will just throw it out.
He said the authority and state just rolled out a big effort to educate people on what can and can’t be recycled in the bins and taking glass out now will confuse people.
Glass is a state-mandated recyclable, which means municipalities have to collect it and residents still have to recycle it.
Marconi said Ridgefield plans to make the change whether the whole authority signs on or not. He’s encouraging residents to bring it to the transfer station directly. He plans to establish a baseline of recycled material now and then compare it with what is brought and sold while separating glass.
“By picking the glass out, we feel we can control the increase by becoming more efficient at the recycling centers and at home,” he said.
Heaton-Jones said HRRA administered a survey to about 720 residents about removing glass. About 90 percent said they would separate and about 75 percent said they would drive that glass to the transfer stations.
“That’s positive to me,” she said, adding the authority needs to figure out how to make it easier to get the glass to the transfer station. “It’s important for our environment, it’s important for our economics. It’s an example of the circular economy. I have faith our residents will do the right thing once we inform them.”