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Despite the negative sentiment over recycling glass, during the annual Paper & Plastics Recycling Conference, held in Chicago Oct. 19-21, two representatives from the recycling sector – one a private recycling company the other a non-profit recycling company -- expressed a more optimistic approach to the glass recycling sector.

Cal Tigchelaar, president of privately owned Resource Management Companies (RMC), a Chicago-based recycling company, and Kate Davenport, chief of business development for Eureka Recycling, a Minnesota-based non-profit recycling company, both highlighted the successes and opportunities they have seen by embracing glass as a recyclable commodity.

At the same time, both said that there are challenges in handling the material and what is needed is a full commitment by the recycling company to make glass recycling successful.

Tigchelaar’s company operates three MRFs, including two in the Chicago area. The company has been involved in handling glass for 25 years, and beneficiating glass for about 10 years.

While acknowledging the problems the company has had in the past with glass, including a fairly high cost to handling the material, his decision to fully commit to glass recycling has turned a cost center into a profit center.

First off, unlike many commodities typically glass has a negative value. “We have to charge for the material,” Tigchelaar said. Also, there is insufficient processing capacity of the type we now do ourselves, he continued. We will acquire at a negative value or take it at zero. For comparison, Tigchelaar said that at the present time color sorted bottle cullet is going for anywhere between $60-80 per ton, while fine grind glass may reach between $75-$120 per ton.

Glass itself makes up a significant portion of the recycling stream. In his remarks, Tigchelaar noted that mixed broken glass and the trash that accompanies it as an output of a residential single stream sorting system comprises about 15-20 percent of the total stream by weight, not an insignificant amount. And, as the paper portion of the recycling stream declines, the glass fraction will increase.

One of the first steps to accomplish this was to set up their own collection program. “A line item that was a cost for us is now gone,” Tigchelaar noted. However, to accomplish this the company had to ensure that the glass they were processing was meeting all the criteria needed by end consumers, including delivering a clean material.

RMC has been able to make glass recycling work, but Tigchelaar cautions that there are sizable challenges to making glass recycling as effective as possible. To make it work companies need high volume of the material. Because glass is abrasive it is fairly costly to maintain the glass recycling equipment, and consumers have demanding specs, including an intolerance for ceramics, metal and organics.

Adding to the challenges, Tigchelaar noted that while the initial capital cost is relatively modest, the ongoing cost to maintain wear surfaces is high. “Any surface that will come in contact with glass and glass dust needs to be hard face welded in order to stand up,” he pointed out.

Also, there is a significant yield loss in vacuuming and dust control operations and companies need to deal with higher residue rate in the form of dust and other vacuumed material.

But, if a company is able to factor in these steps, there are sizable benefits, especially for consumers. He estimated that a consumer could save around 3 percent in energy costs for every 10 percent of cullet that is used instead of virgin material. And, despite the negative spin many recyclers put on glass, “Glass is infinitely recyclable, there is no degradation in the quality in remelting,” Tigchelaar pointed out. And, there is plenty of glass that is available to a company looking for a steady supply.

And, in addressing the complaint that glass contaminates a single stream system, Tigchelaar says that many people view glass as the red headed stepchild. However, both Tigchelaar and Davenport both noted that other recyclables also contaminate the recycling stream. “Should it be removed?” Tigchelaar queried the audience. “If you do that you better take the other materials out because they are all contaminants.”

“What does it take to install a few simple screens? It is simple to get glass out.”

“Glass is one of the superstars of the program. After ten years. We used to spend $80,000 to get rid of glass. Now it is zero and we have increased our revenue,” Tigchelaar noted.

Davenport, coming from the non-profit side, also says her company has seen good success in targeting glass as a recyclable. The mission of Eureka Recycling, a non-profit, is slightly different than a for-profit company. Davenport said that a goal of the company is to achieve zero waste, reduce air and water pollution and provide a non-toxic packaging option for consumers.

Davenport also noted that Eureka has focused its attention on developing end markets within the state of Minnesota. “Eighty-five percent of the material (glass) goes to markets in Minnesota,” she noted.

As for the benefits of glass, Davenport stressed that glass “is a good material. It is closed loop material. It also is nontoxic. While there are markets, Davenport did say that one end market that they avoid using glass for is alternate daily cover. “It is the lowest use,” Davenport said, a sentiment that Tigchelaar also expressed.

In honing on ensuring the best end markets for the material according to state law, municipalities require transparency with the end markets for the material (not just glass). “When people are responding to RFPs (requests for proposal) they have to respond to where the material is going.”

Both RMC and Eureka Recycling stressed the importance of delivering quality glass to end markets. To ensure quality of the material Eureka’s end market, Strategic Materials Inc. (SMI), which checks on all of the companies’ material. “We can track our non-glass rate. We know how well that glass is working. SMI checks all of our material. We know how well the glass is working.”

And because Eureka focuses on delivering what SMI requires, they are able to ship the glass recycling company on a regular basis. “In our market they have a quality matrix that is non glass residue. We get a rate per ton based on that. Our rate is 5-7 percent. Because of this, we are always at the front of the line. The ability to move this material is very important. When SMI has shutdown, they get us first because of our lower levels. There is a big incentive to keep the MGR rate low,” Davenport pointed out.

Despite the opinion expressed by many that glass use is declining, Davenport says that in the future she feels more markets will be opening up. “They may be a few years off, but they are coming to market.

“Glass is an investment that we feel is worthwhile from a financial, environment and community perspective,” Davenport noted.

She said that it is more cost effective for cities or haulers to recycle glass than dispose of it. “The removal of glass from recycling would result in an increase cost to the city of around 30 percent. Further, dropping glass would result in a loss of a processing fee.”

And, in addressing the call by some haulers and recyclers to remove glass from single-stream collection programs, Davenport says that even if it is removed from the stream it will still be there.