January 22, 2011

Curbside: Glass

"Trashmaster46”, you say, “I read your post about where my curbside recycling goes. I get that the materials are sorted out and sent off to be made into other things. I get that plastic bags are bad for the machinery used to sort out cardboard from everything else. I get that human beings sort everything else. I also get that in order for this process to be cost-effective, some materials are going to be lost and either mis-processed or junked.”

Awesome!, I say to you. Thanks for reading! What’s your question?

“Trashmaster,” you say, I want to help the process be more effective. I want to make sure materials get in the right place so they can get on with their next life. How can I do this?”

I’m glad you asked!

Today’s feature: Glass

Glass is amazing. Glass can make for strong packaging. Glass doesn’t off-gas weird chemicals that the state of California knows to cause cancer. Glass doesn’t have weird chemicals that make what’s inside taste funny. Glass doesn’t contract or expand over a fairly wide range of temperatures. Glass can be infinitely recycled. Unfortunately, a glass bottle will not decompose readily on its own. It really needs to be reused or recycled. It also takes way less energy to make glass containers from recycled glass than from virgin materials.*

Before you set it out curbside, ask yourself two questions: (1) Can I reuse it somehow? (2) Does my state have a Bottle Bill? (i.e., can I get cold, hard cash for this bottle?)

“No”, you say, “I’ve got all the glass containers I need right now, so I can’t reuse this one. Plus, this is a glass jar. Jars aren’t part of the Bottle Bill. So yeah, I need to recycle this.”

Groovy, I say. Let’s recycle!

“Finally!” you mutter under your breath.

First of all: rinse it out! Most glass recyclers have ways of dealing with leftover bits of food and whatever else was in that bottle or jar, but really, ten seconds of rinsing it out properly beats a stinky moldy jar any day. Multiply that by hundreds and thousands of unrinsed jars, and I think you get my drift.

Also - find out from your local hauler if you need to remove any labels (you should be able to find this info online - in the Portland/Metro area, leaving the labels on is fine). They come off pretty easily in warm water, as long as you're rinsing the jar anyway.

Second: glass on the side. I’ll say it again: GLASS ON THE SIDE. By itself. It’s okay. It won’t get lonely. Glass is strong that way. And only glass jars & bottles – no lightbulbs, no vases, no baking dishes, nothing else. Glass materials have different ingredients in them and melt at different temperatures, making it very difficult to make new glass items out of mixed recycled glass. It can result in weak glass that can warp during production, or crack or explode when being handled. Not cool! Glass bottles & jars are made from similar enough elements that they can be recycled together. Also, don’t put lids in here – put them with the other metals. (if you have other kinds of glass, try calling your local garbage or recyclables hauler for more information)

Check with your local hauler to find out if you need to sort glass by color. Some areas do, some don’t. Where I live, we can put all colors of glass together, and a 5-gallon kitty litter bucket works just fine.

PLEASE don’t put broken jars or bottles in the recycling bin! Yes, it’s still the same recyclable material, but now it’s a big safety hazard – to the hauler (most glass bins are emptied into the truck by hand), and to the sorters at the material recovery station. We’re trying to help the environment, not send anyone to the hospital! Please just junk it.

Third: Please also don’t mix glass with anything else. Most obviously, other stuff doesn’t melt and reshape like glass. Mixing other elements into the glass makes for weaker glass products. And that’s no good. On top of this, glass breaks, and the bits get into the machinery all along the line. Besides hurting people, the glass shards & dust can jam up or even damage machinery, and it can get into the manufacturing process after materials have been sorted. On the field trip, one of our tour guides told us a cautionary tale. Glass breaks down into little bits, called cullet. Let’s say the cullet follows the paper to its next destination. It has the potential for hurting workers along the way and damaging the costly machinery needed for production of, say, toilet paper. Do you really want to be using toilet paper with glass bits in it? I’m just sayin’.

* Consider reading:
Glass Education
Waste Online

Next time: Paper

Consider reading the rest of the "curbside" series. Just click on the “curbside” tag just underneath this post

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