Blog : Local Bottler and Recycling Organization Team Up to Tackle Glass Recycling Problem

By Katelyn | Dec 7, 2015 | in

By Josh Rosenson

Bedford – A partnership between a large NH company and a state-wide non-profit has the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England (CCNNE) and New Hampshire the Beautiful (NHtB) leading the way in helping to solve the growing problem of recycling glass products.

Ray Dube, sustainability manager for CCNNE, is also a member of the NHtB Board of Directors. He summed up the glass recycling problem – an issue he says people are often shocked to learn exists – as consisting of two main challenges; public insistence on glass for certain products and the incredibly costly process of transporting and then recycling it.

The challenge glass poses begins with the marketplace, because while most vendors have been trying to move away from glass, they immediately run up against consumer preference for glass. CCNNE, for example, uses glass for less than one percent of its products. But the liquor industry, in particular beer and wine purveyors, continues to struggle to sell products that are not in glass bottles after decades of the perception that glass holds a more quality product.

But while consumers have come to expect certain liquids in glass containers, most don’t realize just how costly glass can be, and just how much glass can add to the carbon footprint of a product. Dube explains. “The first part of the problem is the weight of the bottles on the trucks for transport,” adding that about half of each truck carrying glass bottles is empty due to weight limits on highways. While trucks can only be half-filled with glass, a truck can be filled full with plastic bottles.

“The issue begins from the time you make the bottle and continues through to the bottling plant, on to the distribution plant, the transportation of that product, and then to the store. Finally, at the consumer’s house it continues to be an issue when it leaves the household as trash and ends up at the dump or recycling station.”

“You’ve got this massive use of fuel to move it around because it’s so heavy. Aluminum and plastic are much, much lighter and use a lot less fuel to transport,” Dube explains.

The second part of the problem is in recycling that glass. Something like a pickle jar or a wine bottle is recycled, but frequently breaks in the process. “Now you’ve got broken glass that contaminates other recyclables. It destroys the other commodities. That’s why today, you are seeing glass get kicked out of recycling, pretty rapidly,” adds Dube.

Glass was one of the first packaging materials to be recycled, and was the standard for beverages for hundreds of years. But technological advancements in containers for liquids rapidly displaced glass.

“As soon as the technology to make plastic bottles became affordable, glass was quickly replaced with plastic,” says Dube. And glass is a problem that goes beyond the beverage industry extending too many items in the grocery store. “Companies that can get out of glass are doing that at a rapid rate because frankly it’s very energy intensive to reuse glass bottles and we don’t have too many recycling solutions so the result is glass piling up.” Dube says.

The non-profit recycling organization New Hampshire the Beautiful is making an effort to tackle the glass conundrum and has partnered with the Northeast Resource Recovery Association. Together the two organizations are working with the state to get more approval for using crushed glass for things like roadways and sidewalks as well as septic systems. Recycled crushed glass works very well as an under layer for many public works applications because it drains very well.

The goal is to repurpose the glass wherever possible, finding new markets and uses for recycled glass. Using it for roadways and sidewalks saves mountains from being dug up for gravel. However, while this effort is underway, Dube says, at present, most of the glass in the northeast coming out of recycling centers ends up in landfills as gravel to cover trash.

“That’s not what people think of when it comes to recycling,” says NHtB’s Director John Dumais. “People recycle their glass dutifully and think it’s going to have another more useful life but unfortunately much of the time it does not.”

Dumais adds that the state will remain saddled with the problem until the market has more economical uses for recycled glass or until companies step in with entrepreneurial ways to reuse it and make a profit doing so, noting Budweiser just spent over $150 million on an aluminum bottling company so that it can move away from Bud in bottles. “I think the next big shock to the glass market is going to be the beer guys going to aluminum bottles,” Dumais adds.

NHtB helps via education and funding, aiding towns with the purchase of glass crushers for transfer stations. It has also helped fund other novel equipment to turn glass into sand or gravel material. Dumais says some NH towns are using this aggregate for drainage ditches on the side of roads.

“For us, as a beverage company, glass is the only commodity we recycle that we have to pay to get rid of,” Dube says, “It’s costly for us to deal with.”

CCNNE, NHtB and the Northeast Resource Recovery Association have also turned their attention to education around the complexity of glass, hoping to educate NH consumers. NHtB runs school programs across the state working to engage young people on the importance of recycling properly, including info on the negative impacts of glass products. Dube wearing his both his CCNNE and his NHtB hats has spent countless hours traversing the state to speak about the issue.

“I spend probably 100 work days a year teaching and glass is a major topic. It’s so important to educate young people about the drawbacks of glass before they become ‘addicted’ to certain products being packaged in glass. We have to get them early to disrupt that expectation. Ultimately the best practice to help solve the glass recycling problem is for consumers to stop purchasing products in glass packaging. It’s that simple”