Commentary - April 18th, 2014
10:38 am
Mon April 21, 2014

Quality Control Needed for Successful Recycling in Montana!

Good evening Montana! Matt Elsaesser here with Recycle Montana. Next Tuesday, April 22nd, is Earth Day! Earth Day is a great time to discuss day-to-day opportunities to reduce our impact on the planet and build community. The three Rs of reduce, reuse and recycle are always a great way to start the discussion. Reducing our waste by bringing our own mug to the coffee shop or donating our used household items to a local thrift store is pretty strait forward.

Recycling is a bit more complicated. Recycling creates a valuable resource from what would we would otherwise waste. Quality control is essential and partnerships are needed to get recyclables from the recycling bin to a new product in the market or to find a permanent end use in construction or infrastructure. We can all do our part by knowing and following the guidelines of the recycling programs we utilize. The better informed we all are when we recycle, the more effective existing and future programs can be at collecting recyclables and finding the most valuable use for the recycled resource we create.

Glass recycling provides a great example of the importance of quality control. Community glass recycling programs are designed for container glass. Container glass includes bottles and jars one would find at a grocery store—such as a bottle of wine or glass jar of salsa. The many other types of glass, ranging from wine glasses, plates and coffee mugs to light bulbs, home windows, and windshields have different composition than container glass consisting of jars and bottles. These other types of glass, generally durable goods designed for long-term use may have specialized recycling program at their point of sale.

Many successful Montana recycling enterprises start with well-sorted container glass. In Livingston, pulverized glass—glass processed up to a quarter inch with no sharp edges--and sand is used in public work projects, landscaping, and pipe bedding. Pulverized glass from rural communities was used in road base in Interstate 15 near Boulder. Glass in Helena is recycled into cement at a nearby plant in Montana City. Glass collected by a retailer in Bozeman is collected and crushed into large boxes by a local recycling company. The glass is shipped by truck to Salt Lake City for manufacturing a variety of products including insulation. Montana glass ships by rail to Golden Colorado to become new bottles.

Glass contains embodied energy and a variety of resources. Silica or sand is the major ingredient, but sodium carbonate or soda ash, lime, and other additives can make up more than a quarter of glass containers.  Such materials are mined and shipped great distances today.  Glass container recycling provides a valuable base material to be used with less energy in future manufacturing, as an aggregate in local construction and public works projects, and--of course--in new bottles.  Reusing bottles, as done by a local brewery in Missoula maximizes these benefits!

Keeping non-container glass, other recyclables and trash outside of glass collection bins is essential for successful glass recycling. Small safety rings and labels are usual okay, but metal lids should be recycled with like metals and corks should be removed. The glass should be clean and stored without lids from the start. Cleaner, properly sorted material yields a higher quality product that can be recycled into a greater variety of commodities to be used again. While the specific guidelines vary, this is true with all recycling.  

Recyclers compact and bale the most common recyclables-such as cans, cardboard, and plastic for shipping. Glass can only be crushed, requiring handling more similar to construction aggregate. Whether separating recyclables at a local drop-off site or using a single stream recycling bins where compactable recycles are mixed to be separated later, glass requires different handling and equipment. The glass cannot be separated by downstream processing as well as the compactable recyclables and is--at best--more expensive and difficult to sort.

Fortunately, glass has other local uses as well.  Community partnerships can and are making these options work. Recent revelations of the loads of glass being contaminated in Missoula provide an opportunity for all of us to learn how important it is that we follow program directions and encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same. For glass and all recycling, the better job we do, the more valuable the recyclable resource we create together has a community becomes.

A 2004 study by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality found that recycling provided nearly ninety million dollars in revenue and sustained over 300 full-time jobs in Montana. Montana Recycled or diverted three-hundred and fifty thousand tons or twenty-two percent of the 1.6 million tons of the municipal waste generated in 2012, showing a decrease in land-filling and an increase in recycling from 2011. In 2003, the number was only fifteen percent. There is much more to be done with recycling in our homes, businesses and communities. Together, we can continue to further reduce waste and put more resources to good use in Montana. I’m Matt Elsaesser with Recycle Montana. Learn more about recycling online at RecycleMontana.org Have a great evening and keep recycling Montana!

Matthew Elsaesser represents Recycle Montana, working with recyclers, communities, and advocates to increase recycling opportunities across the state. Matthew has been involved with recycling issues for more than a decade, starting as a member of the Student Advocates for Valuing the Environment Recycling Club while a student at Carroll College, an organization that has since become a community non-profit in Helena.