Glass Recycling Problems | Potholes in the Sustainability Road

Last year, the Lafayette Consolidated Government began looking into new recycling service providers, as the current contract was coming up for expiration this year. The RFP had intentions of upgrading current services for Lafayette city and unincorporated parish residents, including the option of apartment and business recycling.

However, the city council voted this week to approve a proposed no-bid recycling contract from the same provider. Apartment and business recycling service (under the contract) is off the table, and glass will no longer be accepted in the curbside recycling bins.

Whaaaaaa? Not cool at all. My first thoughts were, there's no way I'm bringing myself to throw all this glass in the trash. I preach for people to use glass over plastic, but this change basically promotes using plastic because at least (some of) it can be recycled.

So, I wrote to my city councilman, and to Mark Pope, our city environmental quality manager (whom I know through Keep Lafayette Beautiful), and let them know my concerns about this regression in service. Although the contract price remains the same for consumers (another big factor in this contract approval), the amount of goods being picked up is lessened.

One of the reasons glass is no longer accepted is the lack of value to recyclers combined with the cost of transporting a heavier material. But, if they are no longer transporting glass, then the same monthly cost actually has a different value to residents, because the company's operating costs will shift.

When I wrote to Mark, I explained:

I don't mean to discredit what you do in the public works department. Without your many years of passionate work, Lafayette would not even be where we are today. I know there are reasons that went into choosing this option, but I disagree with these terms of the renegotiated contract. 
I would just like to ask the city to reconsider the terms of the recycling contract. I am also contacting my district representative to ask him the same thing.

I am so proud to recycle as much as I do, and I cannot in good faith throw away recyclable glass material. I reuse as much as I can, but that can only go so far.
I understand there is a glass recycling facility in Baton Rouge. If I had the ability to drive my glass contents to Baton Rouge, I would, but unfortunately, that is not feasible.
If there can be no glass recycling under the new contract, is there another option Lafayette can offer to the city's residents? Is there another local company who can accept the materials outside of the contract? What options DO we have besides a landfill?

He responded quickly and shed some light on the issue, and explained how this is really a higher-level issue with manufacturers and costs.

I understand your concerns, and the issue with glass has existed for years. In fact, the glass that has been collected with Lafayette’s curbside recycling program has been going to a landfill for years. The market for glass has all but disappeared throughout the United States. Middle-man recycling companies – such as the Recycling Foundation (Progressive Waste), Waste Management, Inc. and Republic Services – simply cannot find a recycling processor that will accept glass.

The reason that glass has dropped off the viable list recyclable commodities has to do with costs. Manufacturers are not willing to pay substantially more for recycled glass when they can purchase the predominate raw material, “silica” (sand) for so much cheaper than recycled glass. Hence, the supply/demand formula sounds the death knell for recycled glass. There is very limited demand for recycled glass; therefore, recycling processors do not supply the product which they cannot market. This means that municipalities that collect glass with their recycling programs have no outlet to be able to dispose of collected glass.

Glass has been a problem since the early days of recycling: it’s heavy and more expensive to transport, and its value has been amongst the lowest for all consumer recyclables. Additionally, with the advent of single-stream recycling, more problems were created: glass breaks and shards get caught up in newspaper and other paper products. Entire loads of paper have been rendered worthless (i.e., headed to the landfill) because of contamination caused by shards of glass.

Rest assured that if our contractor can locate a recycling processor that will accept glass, then glass will be added back to the list of acceptable recyclables for the Lafayette program. As stated in the recycling contract, LCG and the contractor can agree to add or delete recyclable items to the list of recyclables accepted.

I thanked Mark for his insightful answer and sat back to think a little.

It's frustrating that there is no market for recycled glass when its benefits are great, even according to Waste Management. Glass can be recycled more than once without losing integrity.

It's even more frustrating to know that glass has been trashed for years instead of being recycled.

My biggest ideal situation would be manufacturers making recycled glass containers the standard, instead of new glass containers. It would be having all salsa jars, spice jars, soda bottles, beer bottles and wine bottles automatically made of recycled glass. (Some are now, but clearly not enough.)

But until I can sway the glass manufacturing industry to see the light (ha!), I'll bring it back down to what this blog is about: things that each of us can do to be greener.


The best thing you can do is reduce your waste. Don't buy extras, or too much of something in glass. If you don't have it in the first place, you don't have to worry about recycling it or throwing it away. Buy in bulk if you can and use your own containers.

The next best thing, especially for glass food containers, is to reuse. I wrote a blog post last year on why reduce and reuse come before recycle in the slogan, and this is a great example why.
  • Reuse small jars as candle holders
  • Reuse mason jars as drink cups or salad containers
  • Save food jars to store leftovers in (saving money on buying food storage containers)
  • Use jars to store rice and pasta in the pantry, or sugar next to your coffeemaker
  • Hell, make a lamp out of a mason jar
  • Buy items made of recycled or reused glass, to support those companies. (Another shoutout to Syrup Row and her wine bottle candles!)

What ways do you reuse glass at home?

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