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Recycling (or repurposing) glass in NCW

I had the pleasure of attending Pybus’ 5th annual Non-Profit Day, which gave me the opportunity to chat with local residents. While my organization focuses on many local environmental issues, the subject of recycling came up again and again. While you’d think the topic of plastics might be the most popular, it was actually glass.

There are good reasons to recycle glass. Unlike other materials, glass is infinitely recyclable. When recycled, it doesn’t get “downcycled” into products of lower quality. And the energy savings in recycling glass makes it worth it over using the virgin material, even if the greenhouse gas reduction isn’t quite as much as something like paper, plastic or metal cans. However, glass is expensive to transport and process, and can contaminate other recyclable materials.

Unfortunately, there are no local glass buyers who turn old glass into new. The nearest glass manufacturer is Strategic Materials in Seattle. Because of this, there is nowhere that a NCW resident can drop off glass to be recycled. Waste Management still accepts it in most areas locally through curbside recycling home, but interestingly, the glass you send off isn’t truly recycled, but rather sent to Spokane to be crushed and reused. It can then be used in construction such as in concrete as aggregate, to replace sand as filler or as landfill cover.

Obviously most of us would prefer that our discarded glass is truly recycled into new glass products. The good news is that glass is an inert substance, meaning it doesn’t release toxic chemicals or greenhouse gasses if it does end up in a landfill, like plastic does. Crushed glass isn’t sharp, and there are lots of uses such as in glass countertops, as a water filtration media, and as an abrasive in blasting projects.

Devyn Smith, Manson High School senior, adds a wine bottle to their glass-to-sand machine

As of February 1st, residents in the city of Leavenworth can no longer put glass in their curbside recycle bin. In the future, there might be some changes for other towns as recycling companies no longer accept unprofitable materials that are difficult to sort or sell. So what are we to do if we lose our opportunity to recycle glass? Well, encouraging that entrepreneurial friend or neighbor to start a local glass recycling or crushing businesses is a one idea. In fact, two high school seniors from Manson High School recently did just that. As a part of a senior project, Devyn Smith and Megan Clausen purchased a machine that crushes glass and turns it into fine sand. They use wine bottles from 13 local wineries and have recycled nearly 2,000 bottles since starting in December. They don’t currently accept glass from community members, but you can buy the sand at Lake Chelan Building Supply. Follow them on Facebook at Glass to Sand at Lake Chelan and support them by donating to their GoFundMe page.

That’s an innovative idea, but what we all can do is reduce and reuse glass first. Look at ways you can avoid buying disposable glass products in the first place. Enjoy beer or cider? Opt for a refillable growler instead of a six pack of bottles. Maybe there’s something you regularly buy in glass but could sometimes be homemade, such as salsa, spaghetti sauce, jam or pickles. Unfortunately, for most of the food products that come in glass containers, the only alternative is plastic, which isn’t a good tradeoff. So when you do purchase glass items, think of how those containers might be reused, which is easy to do for many large glass jars with metal lids.

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