MISSOULA — Glass can be crushed, blended, melted and recycled infinitely. Yet for various reasons, more than two-thirds of the glass we use ends up in landfills, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Now a Missoula-based nonprofit is working to change that, and is getting a boost with a new glass recycling transfer station set to open in mid-October.
“Us moving forward is dependent on this transfer station,” said Adam McDonald, a commercial account manager for Recycling Works, part of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative. “We’ve been collecting glass for about a year. Right now, we’re just storing it, waiting for the transfer station to be completed, so the folks from Salt Lake City can come crush it, load it and bring it down to their processing facility.”
The ‘folks’ from Salt Lake City work for a company called Momentum, which has the closest glass processing facility to Missoula. Once there, the glass is sorted, washed, melted and – depending on type and quality — molded into new bottles and jars, or used in a variety of other products including construction material such as concrete and fiberglass.
Aside from Bayern Brewing – which accepts only brown, 12-ounce beer bottles with no chips or garbage inside, and no twist-off threading or embossing on the exterior – Recycling Works is currently the only option for recycling glass in the Missoula area.
According to the Glass Packaging Association, recycled glass can replace 95 percent of the raw materials, such as silica sand, otherwise used to make glass products. And because recycled glass requires less heat to process than other materials, it saves energy costs for manufacturers and can extend the life of plant equipment such as furnaces.
But the benefits extend far beyond shaved business costs. According to the Department of Environmental Quality: Montanans generate nearly 50,000 tons of glass waste every year. Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a 100-watt lightbulb for 4 hours, or a computer for 25 minutes. Recycling glass instead of making new glass from silica sand reduces mining waste by 70 percent, water use by 50 percent and air pollution by 20 percent. And every 96 tons of recycled container glass used prevents the release of about one ton of the greenhouse gas CO2.
Although there is a growing demand for recycled glass, the Glass Packaging Association points out many challenges, a few that particularly apply to Montana: Some areas do not produce enough consumer glass to be an effective source for a full-scale glass recycling processing facility; Because glass is heavy, it can be cost prohibitive to ship hundreds of miles to processing facilities; Equipment used to process glass is expensive, and glass must be clean and free of contaminants to be recycled and used.
Missoula’s Target store used to accept glass at its recycling bins, but had to stop because too much of it was contaminated, mixed with other recyclable material, and included corks and caps. It wasn’t safe or feasible to have employees sort through and clean broken glass, and so much of it ended up in the landfill.
Which is why, in part, only one-third of the roughly 10 million metric tons of glass that Americans throw away is recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
“We want to help change those numbers, at least at the local scale,” McDonald said.
Recycling Works started curbside pickup in the Missoula area about a year ago, collecting glass from individuals and businesses who pay for pickup. Prices vary. Once-a-month pickup for 5 gallons of glass costs an individual $9.50. Ten gallons costs $12.50. For businesses, a weekly pickup up of 64 gallons of glass costs $59.95 a month, and $19.95 for each additional 64 gallons.
They also hold bi-weekly and twice-a-week pickups, and hold occasional drop-off events for people – with the next drop-off scheduled for Nov. 3 at Imagine Nation Brewery.
They accept all glass made to hold food or drinks, such as beer and wine bottles and food jars. The glass must be clean. Labels can be left on, but there can be no caps, corks, lids or food residue. In addition, Recycling Works offers curbside pickup for biodegradable “green waste,” such as grass, leaves and flower cuttings.
“It’s growing in popularity,” McDonald said. “We’re getting a lot of calls and people signing up. Our major hold-up has been the lack of a transfer station. Once we have that going, we’ll be able to hold about a 150,000 pounds of glass.”
The $80,000 cost of the new transfer station was raised through private donations, and will be located at Garden City Compost. Momentum will cover the costs of pick-up and transfer of the glass.
“It’s a good deal we made with them,” McDonald said. “If you bring the glass down there, they pay for it. But shipping heavy glass is expensive. So we collect it and store it, and they pay the cost of coming to get it.”
Not only does the recycling program reduce waste, conserve energy and help cut back on CO2 emissions, McDonald said, but all profits go towards the Interfaith Collaborative’s efforts to help the homeless, hungry and underserved people of Missoula County.
“We’re a collaborative group of 35 partner organizations in the faith and nonprofit community,” said Casey Dunning, the executive director of the interfaith collaborative. “Our programs, like Recycling Works, and getting people to recycle as much glass as possible, help the environment while helping us provide services for those in need.”
Click here for more information about Recycling Works.