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The glass ceiling: in part because of the issues raised by commingled collections, challenges face the glass recycling sector. (Commodity Focus).

Municipal recycling programs have a love/hate relationship with glass. While it is great for increasing diversion rates, the growing popularity of commingled collections has had a negative effect on the amount of quality glass collected. Commingled glass commands lower prices from recyclers, therefore continued collection of the material is less appealing to the municipality financially.

Strategic Materials Inc., Houston, is a glass recycler and powdered glass processor with more than 30 plants and depots throughout the U.S. According to the Strategic Materials Web site, the company handles 33 percent of the domestic cullet market. Curt Bucey, COO of Strategic Materials, says something of a downward spiral is at play concerning the supply of quality cullet.

"Collection trends today threaten the health of glass recycling. The amount of quality glass we are receiving is rapidly declining. All of our customers are requiring higher quality levels," Bucey says. "Our costs to correct this supply deterioration are increasing, and we eventually pass these higher costs along to cities in the form of lower prices paid for their recyclables. We also reject more of their material as unusable. The cities, in turn, can't seem to figure out why they are getting paid less per ton and try to recover their lost money by cutting corners even further, which in turn causes the quality to deteriorate further."

Without question, Bucey says, glass container plants want cullet because it offers significant benefits compared to the raw materials used to make glass.


Cullet usage enables glass-melting furnaces to be run at lower temperatures, resulting in substantial energy savings compared to using raw materials exclusively. "When you melt raw materials, the various ingredients have to be fused together at a very high temperature," Bucey says. "According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, recycling one ton of glass saves nine gallons of fuel oil."

Additionally, cullet reduces furnace emissions. "When you melt raw materials into glass, approximately 15 percent to 20 percent is lost during the fusion process," Bucey says. "This loss primarily goes up the smokestack in the form of air emissions. Since recycled glass cullet already has been fused, it does not have to go through this process again, and re-melting it drastically reduces air pollution."

If supply were plentiful, quality acceptable and prides competitive with raw materials, Bucey says that glass container and fiberglass manufacturers "could easily use over 200 percent more recycled glass in their furnaces."


Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), Alexandria, Va., says that of the 56 glass container manufacturing plants, four do not use post-consumer cullet because they manufacture containers for the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. The other 52 plants depend on it, Cattaneo says.

"They all use post-consumer cullet in variance," he says. "And the variances depend on the quality and availability." Cattaneo says that container manufacturers can still get quality cullet from commingled collections, "but they have less to get because in commingling, so much is lost in residue."

Bucey adds that as residential programs convert to commingled-collections preferred by waste haulers, the result is "a migration of material that could be sold into higher-value markets to material that ends up as aggregate or landfill." However, Bucey adds, "In deposit states, the quantity of high-quality material grows each year as the population grows."

Bucey adds that because the container producers prefer the consistent cullet from deposit states, the glass tends to be shipped longer distances.

He says, "Strategic Materials favors the California deposit system as it is less reliant on grocers, soft drink manufacturers and beer distributors who, historically, oppose deposit legislation because of the costs and inconveniences it places on them."

In terms of price, Bucey says, "Raw material is the absolute driver. California has gotten around that by requiring a minimum content [of recycled glass used to make new bottles]."


Commingling has also affected the pricing of cullet, Bucey says. "Pricing is much more varied than it was five years ago," he says. "It was flat five years ago."

Cattaneo says that consistent cullet pricing is derived from the container market. "Container and fiberglass companies will [always] pay a respectable price." He says cullet prices respond to what is manufactured. "If there's more demand for making clear bottles, than the price for flint, or clear glass, could go up."

Because tolerances for amber glass are greater, meaning cullet of other colors can be incorporated to a degree, the price stays fairly steady, he says.

"Very few plants make green glass, so there's no demand. The dilemma is that so much green glass is imported into the U.S., [that] we have to do something with it," Cattaneo says.

Nebraska provides a good example of pricing variations. According to the association s pricing surveys conducted throughout Nebraska for the second quarter of 2002, clear cullet ranged from $0 in region three, northeastern Nebraska, to $26 in region four, the lower half of the northeastern third of the state. Brown glass ranged from $10 in region four to $22.50 in region one, the far west panhandle. Green glass was valued at zero statewide.


Options for lesser-quality material exist, though they are in lower-value markets, such as civil engineering applications.

Anna Cook, sales manager for Glass Aggregate Manufacturing Equipment (GAME), Faribault, Minn., says some of the more lucrative glass aggregate applications include the tile manufacturing, landscaping, sandblasting, concrete block pavers and terrazzo flooring.

Mike Hackett, who provides technical sales support for GAME, says glass is unique because it's already processed and purified. "It's refined material, and it's got characteristics that exceed the natural silicon." These characteristics make glass more advantageous than natural aggregates.

For example, ground glass exceeds natural sand in water filtration applications, Hackett says. "It's resilient, it's inert, it can be back flushed more easily," he adds.

"Sometimes you have to work up incrementally into the higher-value end markets as the markets develop," Hackett says. "That's why our equipment has an advantage in that we can adapt the equipment from a low-end use to a high-end use with very little added equipment or changes."


Cattaneo says, "There's always going to be a use for recycled culler for glass container manufacturers. The issue is how much quality material they can get for a reasonable price that compares with the natural raw materials." He adds, "In glass container manufacturing, less than 20 percent of the cost of manufacturing is in the raw materials. We can't compete the same way aluminum or plastics would--about 60 percent of [their] costs are in the material."

Collecting should be the priority, Bucey says. "Cities have to go back to focusing on recycling. Deposit legislation is a pretty easy solution. Pass it, and the rates go way up immediately."


Despite the establishment of the Midland Recycling benefication center in Lincoln, Neb., which was intended to stimulate more rural glass recycling, many rural communities in the state are processing their glass for use in low-end civil engineering applications within their communities.

"We did a series of workshops across the state in four or five rural communities to try to stimulate the collection of glass for the Lincoln plant," says Kay Stevens, executive director of the Nebraska State Recycling Association. "The price they were [offering] everyone was just a flat $10 per ton. When we got west of Grand Island, everybody just laughed when we said that, because there is no way anybody is going to haul it 400 miles for $10 per ton," she says. "It's just not going to happen."

Stevens says, "We've got a big interest in green building materials here, so we've been trying to find a way to bring in an end market to Nebraska that would use all grades of glass and make something like ceramic tiles.

"What we try to do as an association is look for entrepreneurs who want to get into the creation of an end market. Glass has been on our list for a long time, but we've just not found anybody that was willing to take it on yet," she says. "That could change as the green building movement becomes more prominent here in the Midwest. The market for some of those products could become more visible, and that could stimulate some development."

Although some smaller communities have dropped glass from their recycling programs, Stevens says the idea is not popular. "It doesn't have a huge value, but on the other hand, it's heavy, and it's bulky, and people just love recycling it."

Jerri Case is the solid waste manager for Oakland, Neb., a town of roughly 1,400 people located 80 miles north of Lincoln. As a small town, Case says Oakland does not collect a lot of glass, but still needs to dispose of what is collected.

"We applied for a grant to get a glass grinder." Case says the grinder will take the glass down to sand to be used on Oakland's roads, in concrete, for landscaping applications or as pipe fill.

"It's great to be able to get rid of it that way," Case says. "It's just too costly," she says of shipping. "We work on a real tight budget, and it can be just too hard to try to recycle it."

Case says she believes that grinding glass for civil engineering applications is the best option for Oakland. "It cuts costs by reducing the amount of sand we have to buy and we don't have to pay for landfilling, so it's the only thing that's left for us," she says.


The recycling of monitor and TV glass has established itself in the U.S. Read more about this segment in an online sidebar at

The author is assistant editor of Recycling Today and can be reached via e-mail at
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Comment:The glass ceiling: in part because of the issues raised by commingled collections, challenges face the glass recycling sector. (Commodity Focus).
Author:Toto, DeAnne
Publication:Recycling Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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