Scraponomics Episode 130: So, what's the deal with glass?

Apr 28, 2016, 01:33 PM

So what's the deal with recycling glass? At Friedland, we've been asked this question on many occasions. Usually, the sentiment is that of...frustration. Why don't more recycling facilities take glass?, people say. It seems like recycling it would be rather easy... Well, there are two main reasons for this.

The first reason is because of contamination. If glass is commingled with other commodities, the mills to which we send our materials will not be happy. For example, say we're making a bale of paper, and a glass bottle gets caught in the shredder, and as a result, glass shards are mixed in with the paper bale. If we were to send that bale to a mill as is, it could completely destroy their process for making new paper. Contamination with glass is big enough of a deal-breaker that even single-stream recycling programs have stopped accepting it, and if you've listened to previous Scraponomics episodes, you'll know that's saying a lot.

The other reason it's difficult to recycle glass is because of the market. Remember, one could argue that you can recycle nearly anything. The question is at what cost? Glass isn't really that valuable as a commodity. If you think about it, glass is made from sand, and sand isn't exactly scarce. So, it kind of makes sense. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to move it through the recycling process. Again, we're looking at another situation where the cost could easily outweigh the benefit of recycling this particular material.

However, nothing is set in stone. If glass becomes more valuable as a commodity one day, it will be easier to cost-effectively recycle it, which means we will be able to pay you for it the same way Friedland currently pays people for metals, paper and electronics. Material is recyclable because it has value.

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