Recycling Follow Up: Bags, Glass, And A Correction

I got a great message from Dexter resident Eric Connell in response to my article “Here’s What Happens To Plastic Bags In the Recycling Bin.” In his well-spoken feedback were a couple of points that poked my curiosity:

Eric wrote, “Technology exists so that Material Recovery Facilities can handle plastic gabs, and I wonder what the payback period would be at $219k/yr…I also believe that WWRA is still land-filling all the glass they get?”

I wondered:

  • If technology exists for recycling plastic bags, why aren’t we using it? If plastic bags in the recycling process cost $219,000 a year as I reported, that savings would significantly defray the cost of new technology.
  • Why would the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA) go through the trouble of collecting glass if they’re just landfilling it anyway?

I caught up with Jason Maciejewski, board chairperson for the WWRA, at the Dexter Forum this past Saturday and asked him about it.

Jason was quick to explain technology does exist that can sort and recycle plastic bags but that funding isn’t currently available for such an upgrade.

I had reported in the article Plastic Bottles Good. Plastic Bags Bad, published 9/20/17, that “Enough people are tossing plastic bags into the recyclables that the WWRA states it costs $219,000 annually in labor, broken equipment, increased waste, and reduced commodity sales.” I repeated the amount recently in Here’s What Happens To Plastic Bags In The Recycling Bin.

Jason was stumped as to that amount. Neither he nor the WWRA has ever estimated the cost of plastic bags much less put a number to it. A year after the original article was written, I can’t remember where the number came from either. Now I’m stumped. Nonetheless, my apologies to Jason, the WWRA, and all who read the amount and were misinformed.

“What I can tell you is that it cost the WWRA somewhere around $68,000 a year to landfill all the stuff in the recycle bins that can’t be processed,” Jason said. “The number one problem is garbage. Items like vacuums, vinyl siding and luggage also can’t be recycled.”

“What about the glass?” I asked. “Does it end up in the landfill?”

“Yes, and no,” he replied. “It depends which bin the glass gets thrown into. We have a company that will take our glass if it’s pre-separated, so it is uncontaminated with other materials from the system sorting process.  They will not take glass that’s been through the sorting system.  This is why many of our green bins have separate ‘glass only’ compartments.”

Got it. Glass in the “Glass Only” bin gets recycled. Glass in with the other stuff gets put in the landfill.

“The WWRA is looking at additional sorting options for the single-stream system that would allow more materials to be captured for recycling,” Jason said.

More information can be found at  http://www.wwrarecycles.org/, including a video on glass recycling and another on what not to place into the bins.

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