Talking Green: Recycling glass in the Yampa Valley — why it is necessary
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Currently, the state of Colorado has a waste diversion goal of 28% by 2021, meaning a goal to divert a minimum of 28% of waste materials from the landfill. However, with just one year left to meet that goal, the statewide waste diversion rate sits at 17.2%.
Meanwhile, states similar in population size, like Minnesota and Oregon, have rates of 33.5% and 42.1%, which indicates that higher waste diversion rates are feasible. Recycling is an important component of waste diversion, and the city of Steamboat Springs will discuss how to handle the challenges of glass recycling during the Steamboat Springs City Council meeting Tuesday.
Glass can be a challenging material to divert from the landfill. It is rough on haulers’ trucks and sorting machinery, expensive to transport, and thus not the most profitable material to sell to end markets where it will be made into a new product.
While challenges are present, the environmental benefits of recycling glass are many. Recycling glass can result in 40% carbon emissions saved when compared to the production of new glass, while also saving 75% of the overall energy used to produce glass. As a material, glass is important to recycle because it can be recycled infinitely, with no loss in quality, which is rare.
In Colorado, we are uniquely positioned to establish successful glass recycling programs because we have a glass processing facility in the state. Typically a local materials recovery facility (MRF), like we have here in Routt County — where recyclable materials are received, sorted and prepped — has to ship its materials to other states, across the nation or even to other countries to reach end markets.
Here, we have a unique situation because we have a glass processing facility and end market located just 177 miles away in Broomfield. Studies have shown that glass can be trucked up to 2,000 miles before the environmental impacts equal that of landfilling it.
Our community is not alone in glass recycling challenges, but communities continue to find successful and economically viable ways to handle glass that work best for their contexts. Summit County, for example, hosts a drop-off site for glass only, where it is then transported to a glass processor in Colorado.
The challenge at hand for council is how to best handle glass, increase waste diversion successes and be fiscally prudent. The forthcoming recycling study should inform next steps. The recycling study aims to assess current waste streams and identify cost-effective and impactful options for diverting recyclable materials from the landfill. We urge the city to move the study forward and let its findings guide future actions.
Madison Muxworthy and Kate Brocato are with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.
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