Glass Recycling Faces Fragile Financial Future
Byline: Scott Maben The Register-Guard
All those wine bottles, juice containers and pickle jars set out each week for the recycling truck don't always reappear weeks or months later on grocery store shelves. Sometimes, they never return.
The market for recycled container glass is in a slump, and the material - troublesome to collect and expensive to haul - is growing more unpopular. Some Oregon cities have even dropped glass recycling from their curbside programs.
While that's not likely in Lane County, the downturn is disappointing in a place where people put more in their recycling bins than the average Oregonian.
Glass especially has been a recycling staple here for three decades. BRING Recycling, which processes a small portion of the county's recycled glass, collected 400 tons of it when the nonprofit agency formed in 1971.
Today, county residents annually recycle more than 8,000 tons of glass, including bottles returned to stores for deposits.
"Glass is one of the materials that the public recognizes as recyclable," said Julie Daniel, general manager of BRING. "People really think before they throw a glass container in the trash."
But it's getting more difficult to recycle the glass, Daniel said. Bottle makers have consolidated operations across the country, largely in response to the growing use of lightweight plastics for juices, condiments and other food products formerly packaged in glass.
"So we have fewer glass manufacturing plants farther apart," making it more expensive to ship heavy loads of broken bottles, Daniel said. "That's a shame, because it's a substance you can recycle over and over and over. It really is closed-loop recycling."
Some cities are dropping container glass from their curbside recycling programs in response to low market prices, the high cost of transporting glass long distances and the risk of glass shards contaminating other recyclables, especially paper.
Grants Pass and Newberg each removed bottles from collections, and La Grande and Madras are starting curbside service without including bottles and jars. In all cases, those communities must find other ways to meet the state's benchmarks for recovering materials from the waste stream.
Daniel said she doubts such a move would fly politically in the Eugene-Springfield area.
"I can't see Lane County asking for a DEQ exemption from glass," she said. "It's one of the primary recyclables here."
In 2001, county residents recycled 8,240 tons of glass. That's 50.6 pounds per person - above the statewide average and one of the highest county averages.
But most of that is brown glass from beer bottles, which consumers redeem for deposits. Brown glass continues to fetch a good price in Oregon, while the markets for green and clear glass are sluggish.
The Owens-Illinois plant in Portland, the state's only bottle manufacturer, pays $35 a ton for brown glass. Most green glass, however, is sent to wine bottle manufacturers in Seattle or California. The cost to ship it that far keeps the price low: just $5 a ton.
"There's no market for green in Oregon," Daniel said. "They don't make enough containers here."
Clear glass, meanwhile, goes for $20 a ton, down from $40 a ton a few years back.
"It's a struggling market," said John Hire, general manager of Sanipac, the county's largest hauler of garbage and recyclables. …