February 5, 2016
Acceptance of glass materials as part of the University of Michigan's single-stream recycling on the Ann Arbor campus has been suspended effective immediately.
The change follows notification from the recycling facility servicing the university, Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority, that it no longer accepts glass as part of mixed-stream recycling because of a declining market.
U-M's Waste and Recycling Office, a part of Plant Building and Grounds Services, is exploring new markets for separated, clear food and beverage glass containers, and is working to develop a long-term collection program on campus for these items.
Glass represents less than 1 percent of the 2,400 tons of total recycling at the university.
"We are working with local companies to find a replacement market for clear glass, and to develop the infrastructure to accommodate collection of glass as a separate recyclable," says John Lawter, associate director of Plant Building and Grounds Services.
"In the meantime, our biggest concern is preventing contamination of the recycling stream."
The university moved to a single-stream recycling approach in 2010, the system through which paper and container recyclables are collected in the same bin, then sorted at a recycling facility.
Contamination of recycling streams occurs when materials that are outside of the list of accepted materials — typically food, trash and other non-recyclables — make their way into the stream at levels higher than acceptable. As a result the entire collection becomes contaminated and is sent to the landfill.
Members of the community are encouraged to prevent generation of glass waste on campus, and can do the following:
• Avoid purchasing beverages and foods in glass containers.
• Clean and reuse glass bottles and jars for other purposes.
• Collect bottles with deposits for off-campus returns.
• If no other option, dispose of all glass containers in U-M facility trash bins.
Once a new market is identified and a collection contract is developed, Plant Building and Grounds Services plans to reintroduce glass into the university's recycling operations in a phased approach.
Working with high generators of glass waste on campus, Plant Building and Grounds Services plans to pilot an additional process for collecting glass as single-item recycling before rolling out the process campuswide.
Glass recycling markets have decreased nationwide in the past 15 years, and locally the types of glass accepted for recycling have decreased to the point where acceptance of glass materials is limited.