Curbside recycling haulers in SGF won’t pick up glass. Here’s why you should recycle it anyway.
Updated: Oct 25, 2022
Photo by Diana Dudenhoeffer
From mason jars to wine bottles, glass is a highly recyclable material. In fact, 100% of a glass container can be recycled infinitely without a loss in quality or purity—unlike plastics, which degrade in quality each time they’re recycled.
In other words, as long as consumers keep putting their glass products in the recycling properly, the material can be recycled over and over again, whereas most plastics can only go through the recycling process two or three times before the molecular structure of the material decreases to a point where we can no longer use it.
If glass is so highly recyclable, then why won’t curbside haulers take it?
The short answer: batch contamination.
Recycling contamination is a non-recyclable item—or the wrong recyclable item—that ends up in the system. A banana peel tossed in with recyclables or tin tossed in with plastics are examples of recycling contamination.
If you put glass containers in with curbside recycling, chances are it’s going to break. Small shards of glass typically end up contaminating batches of otherwise recyclable plastics, papers and metals.
Contamination is a growing issue in recycling programs, an industry helmed by fluctuating prices from third-party demand. For instance, manufacturers are more likely to purchase recycled plastics as the price of oil goes up globally. But by the same token, when oil is cheaper, it’s more cost-efficient to create virgin plastic than it is to buy recycled materials.
Plus, consumers often have no way to be sure if they’re recycling correctly, so good-faith efforts to recycle can exacerbate contamination problems. (That means if you’re reading this article, you’re a part of the solution!)
It’s easy to see that contamination is a problem when we contextualize the industry as a largely commercial enterprise. In other words, businesses aim to profit from the materials we put in our curbside bins or deliver to recycling centers. This means that the same stakeholders who offer to take recyclables off consumers’ hands have a great interest in keeping contaminates out. In fact, more often than not it costs more to remove contaminates than it does to simply send the whole batch to the landfill.
There’s no standard contamination threshold, either. It depends on who’s buying the bale and the purposes for which they intend to use the materials.
Jim von Behren is the co-owner of New American Recycling in Springfield. Between 500 and 600 tons of materials—from Springfield curbside recycling and area recycling sites like Lone Pine—go through his sorting and baling processes each month. He says that, even with his nearly three dozen employees using hand-sorting and machine-sorting techniques, around 25 pounds of contaminates end up in every 1,500-pound bale, which New American sells mainly to mills in nearby states like Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas and Louisiana.
What if I still want to recycle glass?
Just because you can’t include glass in with curbside recycling doesn’t mean you can’t recycle it in Springfield. OHRD encourages area residents to gather glass and take it to one of the local recycling centers.
Remember: The best thing you can do is to keep glass out of the landfills. This can mean finding ways to lower the amount of glass coming into your home, reusing glass containers, or, of course, recycling them. Try designating an area in your home—in a kitchen cabinet, in the laundry room, on a shelf in the garage—to gather glass recycling. Once you’ve collected enough, load it in your car and drop it off at the recycling center. It’s free and will only take a few minutes.
Here are a few quick tips for effectively recycling glass:
Rinse out residual food. — Leftover pasta sauce in a jar or half a glass of wine left in the bottle count as contaminates, too. Make sure all recycled materials are clean and dry.
No need to remove stickers or labels. — Springfield recycling centers do not require glass to be free of labels and stickers. Glass with decorations, like painted flowers on a vase, can be recycled, too.
Remove lids, corks and bottlecaps. — The only thing that belongs in glass recycling bins is glass! Some metal lids are recyclable, though, just not in the glass container. For example, collect tin bottlecaps from beer or soda bottles and secure them in a container of the same material. Bottlecaps thrown in loose will just end up on the floor of a recycling facility.
Exercise caution with broken glass. — If you want to recycle a broken window pane, or if your glass food containers shatter as you’ve collected them in your home, be careful. Broken glass can still be recycled but is more likely to cause injury.
Not all glass is recyclable. — Florescent bulbs, mirrors and ceramics can’t be recycled the same way as a pickle jar or beer bottle. Dead lightbulbs are recyclable at Springfield’s Household Chemical Collection Center. For shattered bulbs, it’s best to air out the area to get rid of mercury vapor and vacuum up the pieces. Broken mirrors are landfill waste, but if you’re looking to get rid of a perfectly functional mirror, consider donating it.
Check the recycling center’s hours. — The recycling centers at Lone Pine and Franklin Avenue are closed Mondays and most major holidays like Independence Day and Thanksgiving.
Where does the glass go after I’ve dropped it off?
Springfield recycling centers sell glass to Ripple Glass, an offshoot of Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing Company. The business gathers 700 tons of recycling every week, and their efforts result in up to a 95% recovery rate, according to their website.
When Springfield and Ozarks residents drop of glass, the materials are manufactured into new glass, insulation and kitchen countertops. Brown or amber glass bottles are sorted out and sent to a bottle manufacturer to make new beer bottles, Ripple Glass said on their website.
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About the Author
Diana Dudenhoeffer is a multimedia journalist from Springfield, Missouri. She studied journalism, sustainability and documentary storytelling at Missouri State University. She is the current media intern at OHRD, writing blogposts like this one.