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Glass Frontiers

September 22, 2015

Personally speaking, I think glass packaging is fantastic. It feels good, looks cool, and has been used in some form or another as a packaging material for centuries. The Egyptians were one of the earliest civilizations to use it in their art and culture. Starting around 1500 BC, the Egyptians, and other cultures, including South Asia, China, and later the Romans produced glass, including storage vessels.

As we know, glass containers are endlessly recyclable. In theory, if not always in practice, anyway. Many communities struggle to make the economics of glass collection work. Single-stream recycling has brought other issues (a.k.a., glass breakage and contamination) which have dampened the enthusiasm for curbside glass collection.

Some European countries address the economics by having policies that uphold a strong price on cullet to guarantee high return rates in glass recycling. In the Nordic countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland), glass container return rates of 95% are not uncommon. In the US, states with container deposit laws have an average glass container recycling rate of around 63%, while in non-deposit states, only about 24% of glass bottles are returned for recycling.

When David Hudson with Strategic Materials spoke at a NERC Conference in 2014, he made several observations on the “State of the Glass Industry”:

  • Glass container demand is lower, while liquor markets remain strong, wine is flat, and, beer is down.
  • The closure of the Salem, New Jersey glass plant was having an impact on end use for glass.
  • Fiberglass manufacture, an end market use for recovered glass containers, is very closely tied with new housing starts which continue to remain below forecasted expectations.
  • Specialty uses of recovered glass containers, including counter and flooring businesses have also leveled off.
  • On a brighter note, abrasives remain a strong opportunity, especially in the Northeast.          

One solution for resolving the glass dilemma was recently implemented by the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC). RIRRC manages the solid waste and recycling demands for the majority of Rhode Island’s 1.05 million residents from its facilities located in Johnston, Rhode Island.

Like many recycling operations around the country, glass presented an economic challenge to RIRRC. RIRRC stopped sending glass to processors in 2002 because of the shipping expense. The material was used primarily as landfill daily cover. 

RIRRC retrofitted its Materials Recycling Facility in 2012, installing new state-of-the-art processing equipment to transition the facility from a dual stream sorting operation to a highly automated and efficient single-stream operation capable of processing 50 tons per hour.

In 2013, RIRRC began paying a yearly fee of $205,000 to have its glass hauled to SMI’s glass processing facility in Franklin, Massachusetts. Still, in addition to the enormous expense, processing the glass at the RIRRC MRF presented challenges in order to meet the quality requirements of SMI’s Franklin facility.

RIRRC successfully negotiated with Strategic Materials to have a “satellite recycled glass processing facility” built at the RIRRC facility. The new SMI facility now accepts all of the recycled glass from RIRRC’s MRF and uses it to make cullet for manufacturers at its Franklin, Massachusetts facility.

Perhaps RIRRC’s bold idea presents a model that can be used to enhance glass collection and processing in other parts of the country.

More creative solutions for the Glass Frontier in an upcoming blog…

By Athena Lee Bradley


NERC’s Glass Recycling Forum – Exploring Possible Solutions—will bring together manufacturers using recycled glass for making new containers, fiberglass, color-coated aggregate, concrete applications, and blasting medium, as well as collectors and processors of recycled glass to discuss ways to bolster glass recycling and recycled glass markets throughout the Region. The Forum will be held on November 9 & 10 in Providence, Rhode Island.

An added bonus to the event is two facility tours being offered by Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) and Strategic Materials.  The first stop will be at the RIRRC Material Recovery Facility (MRF) and then to Strategic Materials’ new satellite recycled glass processing facility at the RIRRC compound.  

The day-long Forum agenda will provide many opportunities for learning from and interacting with a notable cast of presenters.

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