Glass in focus

Material hasn’t been recycled since 2012

In this Journal file photo, Brad Austin, director of the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority, stands beside the recycled stream of sorted plastic material at the landfill’s recycling facility. People who attended the Marquette City Commission work session Wednesday night were surprised to hear from Austin that glass has not been being recycled by Marquette County Waste Management since 2012, and has instead been going to landfills. (Journal file photos)

MARQUETTE — Several months after announcing glass would no longer be among the recyclable materials processed by the Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority, MCSWMA Director Brad Austin talked about the future of recycling Wednesday evening at a Marquette City Commission work session and restated that glass has not been recycled since 2012.

“All of the glass collected in this county since 2012, when this program started, has been placed in the landfill and has not been sent to a recycling facility,” said Austin, who took over as director of the landfill in September 2015.

In a November article published by The Mining Journal, Austin was quoted saying the MCSWMA hasn’t recycled glass since it incorporated a dual stream program in 2012, adding that glass was sorted and put into the landfill, being used as a drainage medium for a time. Glass — an inert material that produces no landfill gas — doesn’t have the same environmental impact that other kinds of waste do, Austin said.

The dual stream system alternates between rigid and fiber recycling materials, so that one week, paper and cardboard materials are collected, and the next week, plastics and metals are collected.

At the work session, Austin said the main reasons MCSWMA decided to stop recycling glass is because the materials cause wear and tear on processing equipment, contaminates other recyclables and decreases the value, raises concerns over worker safety, and there’s no viable market for glass nearby. Transportation is also costly because of the Upper Peninsula’s secluded location, he said, adding that the closest place to send glass is near Milwaukee.

“(Glass) is something that can be recycled (but) it is something there is no market for in this area. We are spending money on something that there is no market for — that is the reality with glass,” Austin said.

Austin told The Mining Journal today residents have not had to pay any tipping fees regarding recycling glass.

“The recyclable material that’s collected residentially is collected to us and there is no tipping fees on the material,” he said.

According to Austin, since glass contaminates other materials and the recycling program relies solely on market returns, it’s costing MCSWMA more money. After over a year of assessing the programs and its operations, Austin said they made the difficult decision to stop recycling glass because it seems to be the most logical.

“As a whole we advocate partnerships with municipalities and have a long history in the county … we’re very active and we’re proud of that,” Austin said.

Director of Public Works Scott Cambensy echoed Austin’s remarks about marketing the materials.

“The one thing that we need to understand when we talk about recycling is that there’s always a dollar sign that’s involved with it, too. If recycling was 100 percent free and 100 percent subsidized we’d probably recycle everything we could,” Cambensy said.

Delta County hasn’t recycled glass since 2004 because of similar reasons, according to Delta Solid Waste Management Authority Manager Don Pyle, who was also present at the work session.

“Glass is difficult. It’s very recyclable and the people who run the glass recycling plants know that and people do want to recycle so the reality is we either need more glass plants that recycle locally or we’ve got to get them to be willing to pay for the material to justify shipping it,” Pyle said.

Commissioner Frederick Stonehouse rebutted the expenditure discussion by saying price should not be the issue.

“It’s not how cheap we can do something, it’s how good we can do something,” Stonehouse said.

Stonehouse then asked the audience of around 20 people to raise their hands if they thought when they were putting glass on the curbside to be picked up if they believed it was being recycled. Nearly everyone in the audience raised their hands.

In July, the commission opted for a seven-year contract with Waste Management despite a higher bid price, in large part, to support the MCSWMA’s recycling program. When the city approved the latest contract “utilizing the landfill locally” was a huge factor in the decision and the commission and public should keep that in mind, said City Manager Mike Angeli.

Future recycling options were presented at the meeting but some members of the commission said they weren’t satisfied with the results and that the complex situation will take time to study over.

A couple options suggest that the city place drop-off recycling bins locally to collect glass.

Angeli said he has an issue with the bins because they would have to be supervised.

“You can’t just rely on people to use drop-off sites responsibly,” he said.

Mayor Dave Campana called the glass issue a “dead” one because of all the “road blocks” noted in the process.

“Yes we could charge people more, we could pay for it somehow and I guess it would work … but if there’s no value in glass we have to face that,” Campana said.

Angeli said the city will have to decide on whether or not to recycle glass in Marquette, continue placing the glass in the landfill, or recycle out and pay extra costs. According to Austin, glass hauled from Marquette County, based on local vendors, is estimated at $75 a ton just for transportation.

During the public comment portion of the session, several audience members expressed frustrations with how unclear MCSWMA has been about its recycling.

“I think there’s a lot of people who want to recycle, reuse and save the planet,” said Don Snowden, of Marquette. “The glass has just been going into the landfill … I’d like to see glass recycled. We thought it was being used purposely. I think we could be proactive here (in Marquette) and not send it away.”

The commission did not vote on any matters regarding recycling during the work session. The city will discuss the matter in the future.

Jaymie Depew can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is jdepew@miningjournal.net.