Charlie Sudbrink stood next to a 10- yard dumpster, no taller than 4 feet, that was half-filled with glass bottles at the Cortland County Recycling Center.
While the bottles nestled against the side of the dumpster, Sudbrink, the county highway superintendent, saw something else — the use of the glass material as alternate uses at the county landfill.
A new county plan, so far voluntary, would see collected glass used in the county to save money rather than recycling it.
“I brought it up when I was chairman of the Solid Waste Committee and couldn’t gain any traction,” said Sudbrink.
Cortland County is under the terms of a contract with Casella Waste Management, who oversees the county’s recycling center.
Right now recyclables coming into the center are zero-sort, Sudbrink said. If it’s recyclable, it all goes into one bin to be sorted at the recycling center.
However, any glass coming into the facility is shipped almost 73 miles west to Ontario County. “They’re using it in their landfill,” Sudbrink said.
It’s a process costing the county around $45 a ton — around $25 per ton of glass and another $20 for transportation, Sudbrink said. “That’s $45 we’re losing trying to recycle it,” he said.
The other option is to dump the glass in the landfill— 600 to 1,000 tons of glass a year. The tipping fee is $80 a ton, making throwing it into the landfill an $80,000 cost.
Sudbrink believes he’s found a third option.
The county now mines shale at the landfill — which spreads between Solon, Homer and Cortlandville — to cover the waste each day and to use as drainage, Ernst said.
“The issue with shale is it’s a hard material to excavate,” he said.
Ernst said the county has been looking to get away from mining shale. Glass could reduce the need for shale. It would be crushed and used as a stone substitute in landfill drainage ditches. Its primary job is to help filter water and stave off erosion.
“It slows down the velocity of water,” Sudbrink said.
Whole bottles would be placed under piles of garbage to filter leachate — water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents, Ernst added.
The landfill generates about 20 gallons of it a minute; 1,100 gallons an hour; and 27,000 gallons a day. The project accepts glass containers, but not other glass, Sudbrink said. “No windows, no light bulbs.”
Sudbrink said the highway department is working with the towns of Virgil and Truxton to put in place similar dumpsters.
Once enough glass is collected, the state Department of Environmental Conservation would need to test it for chemicals or contaminants before it could be used in the landfill.
The glass is more manageable than the shale, Ernst said. The county spends about $30,000 a year mining 6,000 tons of shale. Replacing 1,000 tons with glass would save $5,000.
Between reducing the use of shale and not having to pay $45 a ton to haul the glass, the county could save a total of about $50,000.
The demand for glass in the recycling stream is low — for now.
However, an industry expert points to data suggesting that the demand for glass will increase, making recycled glass a marketable commodity again.
Recycled glass not only reduces emissions and consumption of raw materials, but also extends the life of plant equipment, such as furnaces, and saves energy, according to the Glass Packaging Institute.
Overall, there has been a decline in demand — data from the glass industry has 28 billion containers shipped in 2017 dropping to about 27 billion in 2018, wrote Anne Germain, vice president of technological and regulatory affairs for the National Waste and Recycling Association in Arlington, Virginia.
“Glass used to be used in a wide variety of products — for example, mayo, ketchup, mustard, pickles, soft drinks, wine, beer, spirits, medication,” Germain wrote in an email. “Although it’s still used widely in alcohol — wine, beer and spirits — use in soft drinks and food have gone down.”
However, Germain reports consumers rank glass bottles best for preserving flavor and the industry has seen a surge in the use of refillable bottles.
Germain also cited two articles from Packaging Strategies magazine that report the glass container industry could see opportunities this year for growth.
Return to dual-stream recycling
The only change the new program would require is ending single-stream recycling, Ernst said. Residents would need to separate the glass from their recyclables.
Getting the public on board would take a lot of education, Sudbrink said. That job would primarily fall to a recycling coordinator — who Sudbrink hopes to hire by the end of the month.
If the plan to separate the glass moves from a voluntary program to a mandatory one, Sudbrink said the county has until the end of the year, when its contract with recycling center operator Casella Waste Management ends, to continue the education process.
Sudbrink isn’t sure how county lawmakers will want to proceed. “It’s how to move forward the most efficient way,” he said.
More education would be done if the plan was made mandatory, Sudbrink said.
Residents would need to separate it. Haulers, who now need only to keep trash separate from recyclables, would also need to keep the glass separate from the other material.
The recycling coordinator would enforce the rule, Sudbrink said. Mixed recyclables would be turned away until they were sorted.
What direction to take?
Almost a decade ago, Sudbrink said the county relied on a dualstream recycling system — which separated commodities unlike the single-stream used now.
If the county goes back to that system, Sudbrink said it may be beneficial to have residents separate everything, instead of implementing one material every year.
It’s an option Lauren Jastremski of Cortland said she was willing to consider. She was making a stop Thursday at the recycling center. She hadn’t heard abou the voluntary program, but was interested.
Jastremski said there is already so much waste being produced, that anything to help alleviate it is good. She’s interested in looking into separating her recyclables. “No question about it,” she said.
Sudbrink doesn’t know where the Legislature wants to go with recycling — it could be another month before he knows. “They have to give us direction,” he said.