Had a bit of a break there after that last blog post. No Council meetings going on right now, so the regular cycle a little disrupted, and though I have a few things of write about, the time just wasn’t there. But as I started to reply to the e-mail that accumulated during my week off (went to Victoria, it was great!), it got me thinking about heat and glass.
The last post I wrote about the Heat Dome, and the inadequate response by local and provincial governments to the event, got a fair amount of pickup. This lead to interviews with a local news radio station, the local CBC radio, and even a short clip on the national CTV News. Easily the biggest media response to anything I’ve written here in a few years. Of course, writing “the government did a bad job” will always be a more compelling story than “here is something that the government is working hard at” or (Gord forbid) “Here is something the government is doing really well”. Such is the zeitgeist.
on the other hand, a topic I received a few e-mails on just this week was that of glass recycling in the City, apparently a slightly-delayed form of feedback to a slightly-delayed story appearing on local print paper about the conversation last month about glass recycling. I talked a bit about it here, but I think we need to have a better discussion in the community about the topic. So here, stripped of perhaps-useful context of the original letters, were my responses to two of the letters I received:
Thanks for writing, and for thinking about this issue more than most do!
First off, I agree that the environmental impact of glass going to the landfill is negligible. Glass is inert, and does not create the leachate and GHG issues that organic materials cause in landfill. There are two complicating factors, however. Glass is dense, and the way we pay for waste disposal (tipping fee by mass, not volume) means it adds cost to disposal. Also, much of our mixed garbage goes to the incinerator, not the landfill, and the fate of glass through that process is less clear to me, though adding mass to the bottom-ash of the incinerator (which is a definitively not-inert product) may be a problem.
I suspect we are headed towards separate curbside-glass collection (though I cannot speak for what Council will decide when we get the report from staff), and because of the environmental point made above, my vote on that decision will be heavily biased towards whatever path results in the least increased cost long-term for New West residents.
I’m not sure I understand what your point is? Glass that is placed in single-family combined recycling does, indeed, currently end up in the garbage stream, because the mixed recycling process does not include glass recovery. Indeed, if that glass is mixed with paper and plastic recyclables, then there is a likelihood that the plastic and paper will accompany the glass to landfill/incinerator, as a “contaminated” load that cannot be treated as clean recyclable materials. The City does not send it to the landfill, but the waste processor who takes our recyclables likely does. Indeed the conversation at Council last month was around how the City (who is paying fines to the material processing corporation because too much of our recycling material includes glass contamination) should address this problem. I think the suggestion that education about the need to separate glass, backed by enforcement if necessary, is a reasonable one, and a fairly common good governance model that has worked effectively in other jurisdictions for managing waste stream separation problems.
Thing is, our recycling systems are very different that the narrative that exists about them. This is evidenced by seeing how the region talks about reducing or banning single-use plastics, while there is no similar discussion about banning or reducing single-use glass containers, when the latter are a much bigger problem for our recycling system. Indeed, glass going to landfill is likely (from a strictly environmental viewpoint) the ideal, as it has low recycling value and is essentially inert in the landfill, not causing downstream leachate or Greenhouse gas issues that are the fate of organic landfill materials. However, the density of glass, and the way we pay for landfilling material (tipping fees charged by mass, not volume) mean we have an economic incentive to find a different pathway for glass.
There is also a significant social marketing aspect to glass recycling. We have, for a good 40 years now, been trained to believe that glass recycling is the keystone of recycling, because glass (along with metal cans) was the first material we had society-wide systems to recycle – through education and the ubiquitous 5 cent refund. Now when glass recycling is likely both an environmental and economic negative, we still do it because we have created a cultural expectation about glass belonging in the “recycle” pile, not the “garbage” pile. Indeed, I read studies from the States (more than a decade ago, but probably still applicable, as here I am having this conversation) that showed plastic and paper diversion to recycling is more successful if parallel glass collection is available. We are trained to recycle glass and cans, plastic was the next step.
So, in short:
Glass mixed with other recyclables = bad, and really expensive.
Glass collected beside other recyclables = better, but not for the reasons you think.
Glass sent to landfill with other non-recyclables = not as bad as you might think, but expensive.
Hope you are having a good summer, and are staying safe and comfortable in the unprecedented heat.