With little to no market for recyclable glass, Waste Pro is sending its glass from its materials recovery facility to the landfill.
A glass bottle is bought at the store. It's taken home, its contents are used, and then it's put into the home's recycling bin for collection. Days pass, a truck comes, a worker dumps the bin into the back of the truck, and the glass bottle mingles with plastic, aluminum cans, newspaper and other containers.
The bottle may break, or it may not. Once at Waste Pro's Ocala materials recovery facility, the truck drops off all the material, including the bottle, into the tipping area. A front end loader grabs a heap and moves it into the MRF's infeed belt where a large drum slowly filters the material to the first sorting station. If the bottle didn't break before, it likely will break now.
A team of around eight people are then tasked with handpicking out the glass from the other recyclable material. Will Howard, production manager for Waste Pro's Ocala MRF, said he only assigns the most highly-trained employees to this belt because of the danger the glass shards pose for other employees and the facility's equipment.
“Anywhere where glass is present, it’s going to damage equipment," Howard said. "It’s going to increase the cost of recycling.”
The glass pieces then go through a "glass breaker" machine, and are deposited into a separate bunker. It doesn't get turned into anything, or sold. It ends up in the landfill.
The city of Ormond Beach eliminated glass from its recycling service — effective April 1 — for this reason: It was getting charged to recycle a material, that wasn't being recycled.
With little to no local demand for recycled glass, which made up about 20% of the city's collection, and Waste Pro asking for a $77.50 per ton processing fee to balance losses, due to the changing market industry now that China has cut back on its recyclable material intake, the commission decided to stop recycling glass. Still, because of the processing fee increase, residents saw their monthly trash and recycling bill go up by $1.24. For an additional 30 cents a month, Ormond could have continued accepting glass in their recycling collection.
But that wouldn't stop the glass from ending up in the landfill. Howard said the material would just have to go through an extra step — a stop in the MRF.
“It can’t be sold," Howard said. "There’s no home for it. We’re constantly looking for a home for glass and something to do with this volume of material.”
Ormond Beach Mayor Bill Partington said he doesn't think residents are aware that glass isn't being recycled, despite being collected.
"It’s like wasted money," Partington said. "It’s frustrating because people want to recycle and they believe it’s the right thing to do, and in most cases it is, but if you’re going to pay to recycle and then find out, really you’re paying for nothing, it just doesn’t make sense.”
For City Commissioner Dwight Selby, the situation is "incredibly frustrating" because clear glass is 100% recyclable. There's a possible market for that type of glass, but in the single-stream recycling collection Ormond Beach participates in, clear glass gets mixed in with colored.
Glass is also heavy, Selby said. The city generates approximately 300 tons of recycling a month, and it pays $77.50 per each ton. The heavier a material is, the more costly the processing.
“The good news is people care, and they want to do the right thing, Selby said. "The bad news is they think what they’ve been doing is the right thing, and they think we’re just arbitrarily changing things.”
Kevin Gray, Ormond Beach Public Works operations manager, said the city is doing their part to generate clean, recyclable material to make the industry marketable. With a 93% participation rate, the word is out there, he said. The changes the city made were just due to the market conditions.
“It’s hard to tell people that it’s not recyclable, because it says that it is," Gray said.
Solid Waste Association of North America Deputy Executive Director Sara Bixby said glass is one of the materials that more cities are examining because, depending on where you are in the U.S., it's not always the easiest to market. If a city is close to a glass recycling mill, then it is more feasible, she said. There isn't one near Ormond Beach.
“It’s not just how do we get it away from the curbside and to a MRF, it’s how do we actually get it back to somebody that can use it," Bixby said. "I think the conversation that we’re having now is probably ongoing and maybe just a little bit louder now than it has been for years.”
In Volusia County, Ormond Beach is the only one so far to eliminate glass from its recycling collection, said Ken DeForest, division manager for Waste Pro in Volusia County. But, other cities are considering it, he said.
“It’s a buzz in all the cities," DeForest said.
It will all come down to money, Howard said. He believes other cities will follow in Ormond Beach's footsteps because they're going to get charged less for recycling.
“If it doesn’t fall into all the grades of material that we pick out here, it’s going to end up in C19 and end up going to landfill," Howard said.
'Not an easy problem'
Ormond Beach is searching for ways to recycle or reuse glass at a hyper-local level. Partington asked City Manager Joyce Shanahan to look at alternatives during the City Commission meeting on April 2.
Partington said Shanahan is exploring using glass in pavement resurfacing programs, as well as purchasing a machine that can crush glass back into sand. Selby, who hopes they figure out a way to keep glass out of the landfill, said using the sand in hurricane sandbags could be an option.
There may have to be a multi-pronged approach with different solutions, including educating the public more on the issue," Partington said.
“It’s just not an easy problem to solve," Partington said.
Both Partington and Selby expressed hope that a new public information officer could help with a recycling education campaign in the city.
Also, buying less glass altogether is an option. Bixby said she switched from buying mayonnaise in glass jars to plastic ones. Selby said people can buy beer in aluminum cans instead of bottles.
“If we can get consumers paying attention to what they’re buying, the container that the product that they’re buying is in, then they will drive demand," Selby said.