Bottles and jars have gone straight to the dump for almost nine years in Kootenai County. The city of Coeur d’Alene is looking to keep some of that glass out of the landfill.
What to do with it, though, remains a dilemma. It’s too expensive to ship to places where glass is truly recycled, so the city and its garbage hauler plan to crush it into cullet, the industry term for furnace-ready recycled glass.
“Our challenge in North Idaho is that shipping this very heavy product is expensive to begin with, and there aren’t really good places we can send it to in order to not run huge deficits in the solid waste utility by doing so,” said Sam Taylor, the deputy city administrator.
The City Council awarded a new contract for garbage and recycling collection to Coeur d’Alene Garbage Service last spring, ending a 16-year association with Waste Management. In the new contract, the city asked for a strategy for recycling glass containers, which now end up buried at the Fighting Creek Landfill south of Coeur d’Alene.
Waste Management had proposed a new curbside glass collection program in its bid. But the council went with a lower overall bid from Coeur d’Alene Garbage, which did not offer to collect glass at the curb. Instead, the company said it would place large bins around the city to allow residents to deposit their bottles and jars, and the hauler would collect the glass.
“Then the question becomes what to do with the product once collected,” Taylor said.
The city and Coeur d’Alene Garbage still are trying to answer that, and so no collection bins have been deployed around town. A couple of the containers have been built so far, city Finance Director Troy Tymsen said.
“Our goal is to be up and running in the first quarter of 2017 as well as look for the right piece of equipment to make glass cullet that could be potentially reused or to fill up a void in Mother Nature, out in the land somewhere,” Tymsen said.
More cities and counties are dropping glass recycling due to a shortage of nearby recycling centers, the high cost of shipping the heavy material, and a lack of subsidies to offset the costs.
Over one-third of glass sent to recycling facilities ends up crushed and hauled to landfills as daily cover to bury the smell and trap gases, according to the Washington Post, and the rest has almost no value to recyclers.
Starting in 2008, the Kootenai County Solid Waste Department stopped accepting glass recyclables, directing residents to throw it in the trash. Prior to then, the county had taken glass to help fill a 2-acre pit near its Ramsey transfer station.
County officials at the time estimated it would cost $20,000 a year to send an estimated 250 tons of glass to recycling centers in Oregon or Canada.
To consider options, a group of University of Idaho business administration master’s students recently surveyed city residents, in partnership with the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
“Part of that survey is finding out if folks are interested in paying a bit extra in their bill so we can make the program work to the level of service we think some of our residents are hoping for with glass recycling,” Taylor said.
Residents now pay between $8.60 and $10.50 a month for garbage and recycling pickup.
Kootenai Environmental Alliance has advocated for glass recycling in Coeur d’Alene. Container glass can be recycled endlessly and is a primary ingredient in fiberglass insulation and new glass containers, the group said.
Using recycled glass produces 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution than creating new glass from raw materials, KEA said.
Coeur d’Alene has one small glass recycling outfit, a nonprofit group that pulverizes bottles into small chunks and fine sand, sorted by color. The product is used in landscaping, artwork, construction, pond filtration, decor and other applications.
Coeur d’Alene Glass Recycling Co. accepts bottles and jars from about 140 members, who help defray the cost with donations averaging about $10 a month. Members can drop off their glass every two weeks and can take as much of the crushed product as they like.
The nonprofit would like to take even more glass, but it would need a larger building, said Darla Kuhman, who runs the recycling operation.
“If we had a bigger facility I know we could handle some of the glass from the city or the county,” Kuhman said. “We can’t get more people until we have a bigger place.”
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