Danbury area towns could return to separating glass from other recyclables

Photo of Julia Perkins
Recyclables at New Milford Recycling Center.

Recyclables at New Milford Recycling Center.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

The days of sorting glass from plastics could return.

The Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority is considering requiring Danbury-area residents to separate glass from the rest of their recyclables, a move supporters said would save money and be better for the environment.

Most of the glass that people put in their single-stream recycling bins often ends up in a landfill anyway, John Decker, managing partner of Oak Ridge Waste and Recycling, formerly known as Winter Bros., told members of the HRRA at their meeting Monday.

“The ability to sell glass is gone,” he said.

Glass is becoming less valuable to recyclers because it damages trucks and machinery, while contaminating the other recycling products, Decker said. This would not be a problem if it were recycled separately.

“By doing this potential change, we'll put all the communities in a situation where they’re in a better position to market glass than they are today,” Decker said. “Most of the glass today, unfortunately, because it is so dirty and contaminated, has to be disposed of.”

The HRRA, which includes 11 area towns, switched to single-stream recycling in 2012, which made the process easy for residents because they could put their plastic, paper and glass in one bin, said Jennifer Heaton-Jones, executive director of the HRRA.

But single-stream recycling has hurt the quality of the products, with people putting items in the recycling bin that should go in the trash, Heaton-Jones said. Before, a person examined each truck to make sure items were in their proper place.

“Now it is all automated, so they’re less likely to see it even if there are cameras in the truck,” she said.

Communities across the country are also considering recycling glass separately because of these problems, which have intensified since China stopped accepting plastic waste from Western countries at the beginning of the year.

China’s National Sword policy has made the recycling market volatile and increased the cost per ton to dispose of materials.

This fee jumped from $37.50 in 2017 to $55 this year. In 2013, it cost $10 per ton, while in 2011 it cost $39.

By removing glass, this fee could decrease by at least $10, depending on the changes in the market, Heaton-Jones estimated.

Decker admitted this volatile market means that in a couple years industry leaders could again want to change how people recycle products.

But he said allowing glass in single-stream recycling was a mistake in the first place.

“It probably never should have been included,” Decker said.

If the HRRA approves this two-year pilot program at a future meeting, residents would either bring their glass to their local transfer stations or their haulers would pick glass up on the curb. The glass would go to Oak Ridge and then to Strategic Materials in South Windsor.

But Bob Hanna, the manager of the recycling center in New Milford, was doubtful of the idea. He said the change could astronomically drive up the number of people using the center, putting pressure on his staff.

Decker said residents would likely only bring their glass to transfer stations once a month.

“I don’t think we’re going to have this massive wave of people leaving curbside collection,” he said.

But Hanna also worried residents would be confused because most of the rest of the state does not separate glass. He suggested piloting the program with one town first.

“Otherwise, you’re going to confuse a whole bunch of people and what if it fails?” Hanna said.