No-Sort Recycling: Glass Is Out!

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Some say the glass is half-full. Some say it’s half-empty. But when it comes to Moorhead’s no-sort recycling, there’s no argument at all: The glass is out!

Effective immediately, Moorhead Public Works is banning discarded glass bottles and jars from those familiar blue no-sort recycling bins. As of now, they are now exclusively reserved for paper, cardboard and recyclable plastic bottles, jugs and tubs. The decision follows similar bans in Fargo, Dilworth and Barnesville.

“You can still recycle your glass empties,” Public Works director Steve Iverson hastens to add. “But from now on, you’ll have to bring them to our single-sort recycling locations yourself.” Those spots include Woodlawn Park, the Public Works maintenance shop at 715 15th Ave. N., or the new Resource Recovery Center at 3322 15th Ave. N. (north of Walmart). Discarded glass can also be dropped off at MinnKota Recycling, 903 Fourth Ave. N. near downtown Fargo.

Like Fargo and other area communities, Moorhead works in partnership with MinnKota on its no-sort recycling. Garbage trucks deliver their loads of recyclables directly to the MinnKota plant, where the tons that residents have tossed out are loaded into semi trailers and shipped to two multiple recycling facilities in the Twin Cities. There, it’s sold for whatever the market will bear and remanufactured into cardboard boxes (in the case of paper) and other post-consumer products. Some plastics, for example, are turned into man-made “lumber.” The proceeds of those sales, minus the cost of sorting and transportation, are split between MinnKota and the cities.

“Unfortunately, glass is considered a contaminant,” explains MinnKota sales manager Mary Aldrich. “That’s how it affects the other materials, for which there is a market. We just have to pull it out.”

Eliminating glass bottles and jars from the loads that leave for the Cities every day not only eliminates a nuisance, Aldrich says. More important, it substantially decreases the weight of those loads: “Glass has accounted for 11% of the weight, though the area it takes up is less than that. By not transporting it, we cut the cost of transportation.”

 And cutting costs – she says – is imperative. “The demand for recycled commodities is at an all-time low … at a time when the cost of transportation is very high,” she explains. “It follows the ups and downs of the economy. We saw the same thing in 1997, in 2003, in 2008 and in 2015. Our industry is contracting, not growing.”

MinnKota does have one customer for the discarded glass it gathers from the single-source collection sites – Fargo. The city has begun accepting truckloads of glass, crushing it and using it as cover in its landfill.

While the two major markets for MinnKota’s recycled materials are in the Minneapolis area, Aldrich points out that this community has an advantage in the environmentally responsible arena – a local customer for the paper and cardboard from both residential collection and the much larger quantity gathered up from commercial clients. Located in Moorhead’s MCCARA Industrial Park, the Pactiv Corporation accepts as much as the cities can generate, remanufacturing it into egg cartons.

Banning bottles from the bins is one of two changes Iverson’s department has mandated recently. On Monday, he asked the city council to change its regulations to also eliminate the clear plastic bags that are often used to gather yard waste. City trucks collect grass clippings and other organic trimmings at the curb all summer long, then transport it to the city’s compost site. The plastic bags shred, blow around and get tangled in the equipment used to manage the mulch material.

Yard waste collection will continue when the growing season resumes. But the city is asking residents to use biodegradable packaging, perhaps paper, or set out the snippets in containers that can be emptied and reused.

The ban on yard-waste bags mirrors the need to keep all plastic bags out of the recycling stream. The best disposal method is to return them to collection bins wherever they came from, including supermarkets and big box stores.

The changes mandated by Moorhead and its neighbors are occurring all over the country, Aldrich points out. “I’ve had people in the waste business calling us to tell us, ‘That’s a good move,’” she confides.

In the interest of full transparency, the glass story does have some positive notes. The quantity of bottles and jars tossed in the trash has steadily declined, the MinnKota manager reflects. “Plastic tubs and bottles have replaced a great deal of packaging that used to be glass,” she notes. “Lots of people like to wash and reuse them.” (She calls those salvaged containers “Norwegian ware.”)

“Now what we see the most of is wine and liquor bottles.” She shares a tip: “If you don’t want to recycle the empties yourself … buy your wine in boxes.”

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