Quite simply, recycling is just not as easy as it used to be.
Global markets are not accepting as many recycled materials as they have in the past, costs are rising for local recycling programs, and certain materials such as glass are causing contamination issues.
In January of 2018, China implemented a policy that prohibits the import of certain solid wastes into their country; the policy also included an extremely stringent contamination standard. As the largest export for recyclables generated in the United States, China’s waste import restrictions caused recycling costs to rise in municipal recycling programs, including Collierville.
“We went from receiving $25.00 a ton for our recyclables to paying $80.00 a ton to dispose of the material – and the costs are going up every year. In comparison, we dispose of garbage for $25.00 a ton,” said Bill Kilp, director of Public Services. Recycling processing fees are based on weight. A material such as glass, accounts for 5% of the recycle material volume collected, yet 25% of the weight. The Town of Collierville paid $237,500 for recycling processing fees in fiscal year 2019; $60,000 of the fees were due to glass.
According to Recycling Today, “Glass that is collected and sorted through curbside programs is ‘highly contaminated,’ making the materials ‘useless.’” By the time the recycled glass reaches the processing facility, it has broken into many small pieces. These microscopic glass particles mix with other more marketable materials such as paper, cardboard, and plastics, which reduces the value of those materials and causes damage to the equipment at the processing facility.
“Due to the difficulties processing glass and the minimal value of the product, many recycling processing facilities across the country are no longer receiving glass as an acceptable recyclable commodity,” said John Fox, Operations Manager of Public Services. “If facilities are no longer accepting our materials, we cannot continue collecting the items.”
Moving forward, glass will no longer be accepted or collected as a recyclable material through the Town of Collierville’s curbside collection program. The Sanitation Division will begin working towards removing glass from the curbside recyclable material collection program and plans to have 100% of the glass removed from the waste stream within a four-month period.
The environmental impact of disposing glass in a landfill is minimal. Glass is made from three natural ingredients: sand, limestone, and soda ash - a very abundant material that has few end users in the West Tennessee area.
“When glass breaks down and is removed from its usable market, it remains safe, stable, and releases no harmful chemicals into the soil. It has been shown that even when glass isn’t recycled, it does not harm the environment,” says Fox.