Randall: Glass Causing Recyclables to Get Trashed

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) has asked for a report on Loudoun’s recycling programs, saying some of the refuse people are sorting out for recycling is ending up in a landfill anyway because of mixed-in glass.

“It gets picked up, and they think it’s being recycled, and in fact it’s not, because when it gets to our landfills, we have no bins for glass,” Randall said.

According to her office, Loudoun’s General Services Waste Management Division and county supervisors have had complaints from residents about collection companies mixing recyclables with trash and haulers about glass being too expensive to separate from other recyclables. Glass, according to Randall’s office, contaminates other recycling streams and makes them uneconomical to recycle.

“What people are doing is what they should be doing, is separating their glass from their plastics when they put it in the recycling bins, and then it all gets picked up, but when it goes to the landfills it gets tossed,” Randall said.

Loudoun Director of General Services Ernie Brown said once recyclables are contaminated with broken glass, they are no longer considered viable to recycle.

“We still are sending a lot of this stuff overseas, and when you open up a container full of cardboard, at they see it contaminated—it’s less than one percent of contamination—they will reject the whole load and send it back,” Brown said.

The problem is particular to cardboard, he said, which traps pieces of broken glass in its corrugation. In plastics and metals, he said, the glass can often be washed out. But with Loudoun’s single-stream recycling—in which all recyclable go into the same containers to be collected—that has cost Loudoun’s contractors more money.

“It has caused the recycler to drastically slow down their process, which is much more costly,” Brown said. “And that cost  is incurred for all recyclables because they have to sort everything out and make sure it’s not contaminated.”

The problem is exacerbated by a market for recyclables which has seen a crunch as China, a major importer of recyclables, has clamped down on those imports.

“It’s no longer back in the old days when there was a really strong market for almost everything to be recycled, and there really is just not a market right now for glass at all,” Brown said.

One option he said they will present to county supervisors: a separate bin for glass. Randall and Brown said some other localities also find creative ways to reuse crushed glass, such as for construction materials.

Some residents have also complained about how seldom the county holds household hazardous waste collection events, currently eight times a year, according to Randall’s office.

Supervisors on Oct. 17 unanimously approved her motion directing county staff members to review the county’s recycling  program, and estimate the cost to start a glass-only recycling program separate from Loudoun’s other recycling.


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