Environmental experts say city not thinking outside the bottle regarding glass recycling
By Jared Senseman, Junior, Meek School of Journalism and New Media
Of all the recyclable materials available throughout Mississippi communities ––-solid waste, metal and glass – the latter is one of the most recyclable of all. Particularly with the glass that goes into food and beverage containers. According to The Glass Packaging Institute, 80 percent of all recycled glass now ends up in new containers.
The reuse of glass has grown at a fast pace in recent times as a result of increased curbside recycling efforts and the increasing demand for it among glass manufacturers. Yet despite this, glass is the one item that does not get recycled in Oxford, where 17,000 students, 60,000 football fans and locals by the thousands can generate a staggering amount of soda and beer bottles in one weekend alone.
It would appear to make perfect sense that a city that has an ambitious recycling program in place already would want to earn the added green –– both in environmental cred and revenue – that comes with glass recycling. But for the past decade, city officials say they have been stymied by the cheap cost of making new glass as well as the high cost of transporting it, as the city of Jackson, Mississippi does, to a glass recycling facility in far off Texas.
For all of the sobering economics standing in the way, however, environmentalists say that while glass recycling can pose problems, it is not out of reach for medium-sized or even small communities who want to go all in with their recycling efforts.
Follow That Trash Truck
With Oxford unable to recycle glass, Three Rivers Landfill in Pontotoc is reaping the benefits. In the month of October alone, Oxford paid more than $25,000 to Three Rivers and another landfill facility to dispose of its garbage. What with the facility charging by the ton for waste disposal, and glass accounting for an average of 7 percent of the garbage produced in the United States, according to the EPA, Oxford could save a considerable amount of money by pulling the glass out and recycling it.
Glass recycling agencies have to compete with landfills that charge per ton of materials deposited. Because glass adds significant weight to garbage, it’s a profitable item for garbage disposal companies.It’s also a costly obstacle for recyclers.
Mark Williams, an administrator for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, believes that as well.
“Recycling glass does have to compete with landfill disposal to a degree. You are competing with landfills where it can be cheaper to throw the material away than it is to recycle it due to the tremendous distance that we currently have to transport glass for recycling.” Williams said.
Currently, Oxford’s hundreds of tons of glass ends up in Three Rivers Landfill in Pontotoc, a privately owned landfill that charges $22 per ton for waste from Oxford. Mississippi recycling agencies in Jackson ship glass to a processing plant in Midlothian, Texas, to have it recycled.
Shipping glass across two states is the main reason for the high cost. “The main problem with recycling glass for Mississippi communities currently is the distance and the cost of transporting the material to a recycled glass processor. This distance and cost is compounded by the weight of the glass which is the one of the heaviest materials that we discard in our residential and commercial waste streams.” Williams added.
Heat Island Effect
Bill Lilly, the owner of Village Green Builders, Inc., a company that specializes in sustainable building, believes there are other alternatives.
“The key for Oxford recycling glass is to find a local concrete or asphalt company to serve as the end user.” Lilly said. “Crushed glass makes an excellent aggregate for concrete or for glasphalt, (which) … helps to reduce ‘Heat Island Effect’, as it reflects sunlight to a higher degree than typical asphalt.”
“Heat Island Effect” refers to metropolitan areas having significantly higher temperatures than the surrounding rural areas.
Amberlyn Liles, the manager of Oxford’s recycling program, believes that the low cost of new glass contributes to the difficulties of recycling glass as well.
“With glass, it’s almost cheaper to make from virgin materials than it is to take old glass and recycle it and make it into new glass,” Liles said. “I’ve been with the city for 11 years, and we’ve been trying to figure out how to take on glass recycling every year.”
Currently, many residents of Oxford who are passionate about recycling have to go out of their way to do so. Ann Fisher-Wirth, director of the minor in environmental studies at Ole Miss, is one of them. “I wish that Oxford had recycling for glass. It’s important for communities to make commitments for thoroughgoing recycling and there is plenty of glass used here that could be recycled,” Fisher-Wirth said. “We drive our glass up to Memphis, where there is recycling.”