Glass proves to be a serious problem for campus and city recycling programs

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Sometimes, plans with even the best of intentions fail; the city of Boise and the Ada County Highway District (ACHD) know this all too well. In 2007, Boise attempted to make a project deal with ACHD that would reuse collected glass mixed with gravel to be used as an anti-sliding agent on the sides of roads. ACHD also tried to send a large portion of the glass to a recycling plant in Salt Lake City, but both plans failed.

Boise does not currently have any recycling plants that are able to melt down recycled glass and convert it into new glass products. However, the city has a deal with Environmental Abrasives, a company that breaks down the “recycled” glass into small particles and sells the product for abrading methods similar to sandblasting

“Glass is brought by people [in Boise]to these specific recycling [locations], which is collected by Republic Services and then brought to us to use,” said Ron Ward, sales manager at Environmental Abrasives.

This tactic provides a general use for the 250 tons of glass collected in Boise each month that would  otherwise end up in a landfill. However, Environmental Abrasives is not providing the city with a recycling program. By definition, this methodology is a re-using program.

Kat Davis, the Boise State sustainability coordinator, has been struggling alongside the city to find adequate and economical approaches to dealing with the glass recycling issue.

“Glass is almost infinitely recyclable, but it just costs so much money to send glass anywhere that there is a manufacturing facility,” Davis said.

Because of the weight of glass, the financial feasibility of transporting all of Boise’s glass waste to the nearest out-of-state processing facility has proven to be out of the question. However, the city of Meridian has recently attempted a similar outsourcing project and is supposedly succeeding, but with a significantly lesser load.

At Boise State, the administration and the sustainability department continue to remind students that the campus is supposed to be glass free. By discouraging glass usage on campus, the university hopes to limit its own issues with glass recycling.

“Realistically, we might find illicit glass wrapped in a Burger King bag and hidden in a pizza box, which is not helpful,” Davis said.

Davis said she appreciates the sentiment of students who are trying to do the right thing by recycling their waste. She also understands the confusion of those coming from other states who have previously been accustomed to different recycling policies.

However, Davis warns that putting glass into the normal recycling bins is not just an inconvenience — it can actually be dangerous.

“The person that has to go through and sort out the recycling could actually get hurt because the glass will get crushed in the recycle dumpsters,” Davis said. 

Misusing the recycling bins can also be extremely counterproductive. Because glass is easily prone to shattering, small pieces of glass within the normal recycling system have the capability to taint the other items in the bins, causing them to be potentially unfit for further processing.

“It creates an issue for having contaminants within the paper because it ruins the paper to have little glass particles in it,” Davis said. “Then we can’t recycle the paper the way that we should be able to.”

Tori Hewitt, a sophomore pre-business major, said  she is well aware of the no glass recycling policies in her Driscoll Hall dorm, even if other students might not be.

“There’s a sign that goes above our recycling bins and it says ‘Do recycle: paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, sturdy plastics,” Hewitt said. “Don’t recycle: all other plastics, glass bottles or anything else.”

While in some areas on campus there is signage posted regarding the expected recycling contents, Davis warned that students should try to be more aware of what they are tossing into the bins.

“If you have glass to be recycled, please don’t put it in the regular recycle bins,” Davis said. “Put it in the glass specific bins which you can find in the parking area by Square Suites or at any of the Albertsons that have glass recycle bins.” 

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