Green glass glut grows worrisome

October 30, 2009
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LANSING — Michigan has a long record of recycling, and glass is one of the most recycled materials —but not green glass.

Since the 1976 beverage deposit law, concern has been growing about the scope of glass recycling.

“It’s a problem,” said Dave Nyberg, government and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “We are trying to balance between a focus on the deposit law and a focus on statewide recycling.”

Today, Michigan has one of the highest glass container recycling rates in the country —97.2 percent of beverage containers in 2007. But Michigan needs to step up, said Brian Vickers, government affairs coordinator of the Glass Packaging Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based trade association representing glass container manufacturers.

“To a large extent, Michigan glass recycling does depend on the deposit law,” Vickers said. “Bar and restaurant recycling programs — for those establishments that do not already recycle their containers — along with source-separated collection programs for residents and neighborhoods may increase the rate even further.”

Most recycling programs collect only clear and brown glass because of lack of market demand for colored glass, according to Bill Gurn, chair of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.

“We need to generate markets,” Gurn said. “There is a market for clear and brown glass, but there are only a few opportunities for colored glass through private businesses.”

East Lansing resident Nicole Dunn comes to a drop-off recycling site once or twice a month, but there’s no bin for her wine bottles.

“We had a whole bunch of green bottles one time, so we came here and asked a worker. He said, ‘You can go online and advertise that you have green bottles and maybe you can do earth projects with them,’” said Dunn, which made her wonder why manufacturers make green glass if they can’t reuse it.

Packaging Professor Susan Selke at Michigan State University said the market for recycled glass is extremely limited, particularly for green glass.

“Production of green glass in the U.S. is much smaller than production of clear or brown glass,” she said. “Therefore, it is much less likely that there will be an appropriate recycling facility within an economical transport distance for green glass.”

Lucy Doroshko, a recycling specialist at the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said most green glass containers come from out-of-state, which causes supply-demand imbalance.

“Heineken, Molson, Grolsch beers, and Californian, European, Australian and New Zealand wines — we consume far more green glass products than what we produce here,” she said.

“Unless Michigan’s wine industry expands dramatically, it’s unlikely that the majority of green glass will be recycled back into container glass.”

Matt Flechter, recycling and composting coordinator at the Department of Environmental Quality, said colored glass is inherently not as adaptable as clear glass, which saves energy because of a lower melting temperature.

A 2004 law that prohibits landfilling of green glass deposit containers required the to provide a report that addresses problems of green glass recycling.

The DEQ Green Glass Task Force suggested methods to expand green glass recycling, including market development through loans and grants, tax incentives for manufacturers, and extending the deposit law to additional green glass containers.

Selke said, “It’s quite possible to recycle green glass. In fact, a number of years ago, at least one glass plant ran on 100 percent recycled content for a period of several days.”

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