by Liz Skolnick
Just before the holidays, glass was abruptly dropped from the curbside recycling collection in the towns of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Oyster Bay, among others. This came as a bit of a shock to faithful recyclers in those towns, many of whom wrote in to me with questions and frustration - “Glass is a valuable material, it’s ridiculous to just throw it out. Isn’t there a better option?” Though some glass-only collection centers had been set up in those towns, the reality is that the glass collected at these centers would be crushed and used for landfill cover or in road paving products, not given a second life as a beverage bottle.
My advice in response was for residents to bring glass bottles to the bottle redemption centers which are usually found outside or in the entryway of grocery stores. These bottles have a better chance of actually being recycled, not simply crushed or trashed. Unfortunately though, this is not always an option for those with mobility issues, and there simply are not enough machines to handle all the glass that now lacks a proper municipal collection service.
But it looks like an opportunity for large-scale separate glass collection may be in the works. Yesterday, Newsday reported that Brookhaven is launching a pilot project with a glass recycling company in New Jersey, to see whether separate, color-coded glass recycling (separating glass into clear, green, and brown) could make economic and environmental sense going forward.
Though recycling and reusing materials pretty much always nets an environmental positive, as long as recyclables are considered a “product” to be bought and sold, recycling any material has to be profitable. Glass has been a tough material because not only has it had little value in recent years, but when collected with other materials like paper and plastic, it can shatter and contaminate those materials, which in many cases makes them worthless or decreases their value. The situation went from bad to much worse when China - for years the US’s main recyclables importer - enacted materials bans and harsh cleanliness restrictions on incoming recyclables. The chain of events that followed led many LI towns to make the switch from single-stream back to dual-stream recycling, and to drop glass from curbside collection.
We at LIRI are anxious to see what success Brookhaven has with its new glass-only pilot program. We hope it proves to be a great new option for making sure this durable, valuable material remains part of a closed-loop recycling system, and that it will make financial sense for all parties involved. If this proves true, the program could really take off and spread to other LI towns that have recently dropped glass.
In the meanwhile, if your town no longer collects glass, we urge you to bring it to your local bottle redemption centers. Press your town officials to consider new glass recycling options, and hold business owners accountable to ensure their reverse-vending machines are in working order. It’s been a rough few months for recycling, but we have options. And, just today, Mayor Cuomo announced plans to expand the state bottle bill to include more kinds of beverage containers, such as those for juice and energy drinks. Some on the island have also suggested we include the region’s wineries and breweries in a future plan for local glass recycling.
Though recycling may not be perfect, and to be sure, lots of glass has recently gone to waste, some creative new strategies seem to hold promise for preventing waste and ensuring the environmental health of the region. It’s been impressive to see the proactivity of Long Islanders who have written to us, or to their local officials and newspapers to talk about how this affects them and try to work out a solution. That kind of energy is what’s needed to move the needle on big environmental issues, recycling and beyond. Thanks for your emails and thanks for doing your part to foster the resiliency and health of the island.