Arlington, VA

As much as it seemed to make economic sense, the announcement last year that Arlington County would no longer recycle glass collected curbside struck many residents as wasteful.

But there is an emerging silver lining.

Fairfax County said this month that the glass coming from dedicated collection bins in Arlington, Alexandria, Fairfax County and elsewhere in Northern Virginia has been of sufficiently high quality that, in addition to being crushed and used as construction materials, some is now going to a processing facility and is being recycled into new glass products, like bottles and fiberglass.

More from a Fairfax County press release:

North America’s largest glass recycler, Strategic Materials, has begun transporting glass from our processing plant in Lorton to one of its recycling facilities. There, the glass will be processed and sold to manufacturers of a wide range of glass products. One such customer is Owens-Illinois, Inc. also known as O-I, which produces 3.6 million bottles a day at its bottle manufacturing plants in Danville and Toano, Va.

Glass collected in Virginia and recycled into glass bottles in Virginia closes the loop on the circular economy, a goal of sustainable communities. According to O-I, glass-to-glass recycling uses less energy than making bottles from original material, reduces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and supports hundreds of jobs.

“This new market for our glass wouldn’t be possible without our residents,” said John Kellas, solid waste management program director. “They have adjusted their glass recycling habits and are filling up our purple cans almost faster than we can empty them. I appreciate their willingness to participate in the program and their patience as we identify additional drop-off locations and work through the logistics of the new collection routes.”

The quality and volume of clean glass resulted in the partnership with Strategic Materials, which is taking the glass before it’s crushed by the county’s “Big Blue” machine.

“Fairfax County probably has the highest quality of material we’ve seen in a drop-off program,” said Laura Henneman, vice president of marketing and communications for Strategic Materials. “The trial glass load was about 98 to 99 percent usable glass, which is incredible.”

The biggest problem with curbside glass recycling collection is that the glass is commingled with other materials — from recyclable paper, metal and plastic, to un-recyclable and contaminated materials that guilty residents “wish” could be recycled. The level of sorting needed to separate out the usable glass helps make it uneconomical, along with the fact that glass is a more resource-intensive material to recycle.

With a cleaner stream of glass, recycling is more feasible.

Arlingtonians can pat themselves on the back for their dedication to bringing glass to the county’s five drop-off sites. Residents dropped off more than 1 million pounds of glass at the bins in 2019, according to the county.

More on the “smashing success” of the glass recycling program, from Fairfax County:

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