HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Trash the glass. Harrisburg will soon ask residents to no longer to put glass in those blue recycling bins.
For a long time, people have treated healthy recycling like the four foods groups: plastic, paper, metal and glass. However, the City of Harrisburg will soon ask residents to start recycling the glass themselves or just trash it.
John Rarig spent more than 20 years as the recycling coordinator for Pennsylvania. Last year, he accepted the challenge to become Harrisburg’s recycling coordinator, a part-time position. Rarig said one thing he’s learned since the late 80s is that recycling glass is economically wasteful.
“It was fully expected that glass was going to be a major stream for recycling,” he said. “It has not worked out that way.”
Rarig said the cost of recycling glass has outweighed the environmental benefits for many municipalities and recycling facilities that use the single-stream method; pouring all recyclables into one area.
Rarig and the national organization Containers Recycling Institute explained that much of the glass becomes broken in the single-stream process, which makes sorting the different glass near impossible. CRI made a statement on the issue in an article last fall that can be read here.
Mr. Rarig said the broken glass often mixes with paper and plastics, contaminating that sorting process as well. He said most recycling facilities will just put the broken glass into piles and throw them into the landfill anyway.
“It’s perfectly harmless to put [the glass] in with the trash,” Rarig said.
Which sounds strange to conventional logic, he admits. However, municipalities like Harrisburg get paid a small sum for its recycling programs. In turn, the costly nature of recycling glass means less financial kickbacks to municipalities.
“We have been assured that we’ll get more per ton if we put glass out of the stream,” Rarig said.
There is a financial argument made, but what about the environmental side? Rarig said most people are using less glass containers and products, and glass is the only non-toxic product.
“When it goes into a landfill or even if it goes through the incinerator, it’s not adding any contamination to environment or atmosphere,” he said.
While the idea sounds like the city is downsizing its recycling program, Rarig said they are expanding the types of paper and plastics that will be accepted. Also, the city is planning to spend millions to replace trash and recycling containers for all 50,000 residents.
For the bars downtown that go through thousands of beverage bottles every weekend, Rarig said the city would offer a commercial recycling program. Although this idea will happen sometime this spring, a few details are still being hashed out.
Rarig said contrary to most people’s beliefs, Harrisburg has an extensive recycling record. He said 2014 numbers show the city recycled roughly 20 percent of its waste, better than the four percent reported a year or so earlier.
As for glass in trash bags, the city believes any broken glass in plastic bags would be better than bare bins. Rarig said this does not mean Harrisburg will stop recycling glass forever, they’re looking for another cost effective manner that will benefit the city and the environment.
“I’m going to do everything I can to find another way to get it recycled,” he said, “keep it out of the landfills or the incinerator.”