Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Long Island Business News

No clear truth on recycled glass


Posted: November 3, 2009
Originally Published: November 4, 2009

A glass mountain in Southold rises high above the surroundings, but doesn’t appear on any map. It’s been there for years, and while most mountains erode, this one has been growing.

The roughly 1,200-ton heap of crushed glass at Southold’s waste transfer and compost center is a testament to the recycling program’s success and a symbol of its downfall: Nothing is being done with recycled glass.

“At the moment, nothing is happening with it,” said Jim Bunchuck, solid waste co-ordinator for the Town of Southold. “It’s been piling up for about two years. In the industry, we call it the dirty little secret of recycling. There are no sustainable recycling outlets right now for glass.”

Southold has been stockpiling glass while it searches for a way to dispose of it. Meanwhile, Brookhaven has been using its, Oyster Bay’s and others glass for projects at the dump. While Long Island’s recycling collection programs continue at full speed, feeding viable markets for metal, plastic and paper, there’s no commensurate market for glass.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said problems in recycling glass are “not just on Long Island. This is national. “

According to a Citizens Campaign’s recycling report, 75 percent of glass nationwide ends in landfills. While Long Island towns keep collecting glass, much of it piles up or ends up in projects at landfills such as Brookhaven.

“Let’s be clear. It’s collected and accumulated,” said Michael Gianchetta, vice president of Gianco Environmental Services, on Brentwood. “In glass, there is a lot of stockpiled inventory. There’s so much oversupply. There’s not enough demand or application to offset the volume of material in the market.”

Although glass can be recycled into glass products, no legislation requires it and there’s little demand for the mixture of glass municipalities collect. As a result, many towns send glass to Brookhaven, where it’s ground into sand and used for projects at the dump.

“There really aren’t any viable markets in this area,” said Ed Hubbard, Brookhaven Town’s commissioner of waste management. “It’s used instead of sand at the landfill.”

Bunchuck said towns such as Brookhaven are looking for what the Department of Environmental Conservation calls “beneficial uses” or productive applications for collected glass.

“There’s a beneficial use to bury the glass. They don’t call it burying. They call it cell separation of berms,” Bunchuck said. “The landfill is separated into sections. Instead of using sand, they’re using glass. But essentially it’s being buried. When the Brookhaven landfill is at capacity, what’s going to happen with the glass on Long Island?”

Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, said turning glass into somewhat-tainted sand doesn’t conform to the traditional recycling model.

“It’s not closed-loop recycling,” he said. “Closed loop recycling is the real goal. You would take glass and turn it back to glass.”

But part of the problem is that some common uses of recycled glass have been discontinued after causing problems. Glassphalt, asphalt that includes glass, is no longer being used because Esposito said “it made the roads too slippery in the rain and too shiny.”

And Hubbard said the DEC hasn’t approved recycled glass sand for beach replenishment and contractors won’t use it. “There are limitations because of the contamination,” Hubbard said, as recycled glass often contains chemical-coated light bulb elements or even containers that once held contaminating chemicals.

Glass markets actually closed down for Long Island due to contamination concerns. Brooklyn-based EWG used to turn Long Island’s recycled glass into bottles. But after EWG shifted to producing baby bottles, it stopped accepting municipal glass for recycling. “Their level of acceptable contamination changed,” Bunchuck said.

Contamination is a big problem when it comes to reusing glass, Bunchuck said. Light bulbs or window glass actually degrades the quality of the mix, since they can be made with chemicals.

“Even a small amount of that will mess up a program based on melting it down and turning it into new bottles,” he said.

Technology by firms such as upstate New York-based Andela, including optical scanners that separate glass by color, could open up new opportunities. But that’s expensive and at least for now isn’t being used on Long Island.

“If the glass is sorted by color, it can be readily used to make new bottles,” Bunchuck said. “But at municipal recycling programs, it’s virtually impossible to keep an adequate enough separation of color.”

There is hope, however. The New York State Department of Transportation is looking at using crushed glass in sidewalks – if not in “glassphalt.”

“Our material meets their qualifications,” Hubbard said. “If there are jobs on Long Island, we’re hopeful they’ll take some of our materials.”

And a pilot project in the Bronx might take some of Southold’s glass for road filtration.

“That’s a form of recycling on a project, but these aren’t sustainable long-term outlets,” Bunchuck said. “Work still needs to be done on that.”

Esposito said legislation could unclog the glass bottleneck. California requires glass containers to contain 35 percent recycled glass and Oregon requires 50 percent recycled glass.

Esposito wants the DEC to help set up a glass recycling plant on Long Island that would reprocess and turn glass back into glass, completing the loop. But for the moment, Long Island’s glass mountains will continue to grow.

“We’d need a glass recycling center on Long Island,” she said. “That would be the best for the public. We’d have a steady market.”