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Glass from blue carts and depots piles up at dump

Curbside program cuts value of recyclables; city can’t find buyer

It’s a place people don’t think of as a destination for their blue-cart recyclables: the dump.

Yet all the glass collected by the city is being hauled to the East Calgary Landfill where it’s stockpiled in a massive heap (more than 1000 tonnes so far) hidden from public view — a surprise to local politicians and citizens who are paying $8 a month for the city’s blue cart service.

“I’m sure people aren’t aware of it” says Crescent Heights Community Association president John McDermid a blue cart user who learned of the pile from Fast Forward Weekly .

The city says it hasn’t been able to find a buyer for the glass since it started collecting from blue carts in April. Previously Calgarians separated coloured and clear glass at depots. But now glass in the blue carts and recycling depots isn’t separated — and that reduces its quality.

“The glasses are mixed together and there’s other bits of contamination in there that are making it harder to find viable markets” says city blue cart program leader Paula Magdich. The glass she says is being stored on a concrete pad at the dump. “The plan is to find a use for it.”

All glass is worth less because of the recession and housing slowdown (recyclable glass is often used in fibreglass insulation). “It’s a product that there just isn’t any demand for — that’s the bottom line” says Bill Stitt general manager of Metro Waste Paper Recovery Inc. the company contracted by the city to sort and ship recyclables to market. “And I don’t see it turning around fairly quickly.”

Ald. Ric McIver fought against the curbside recycling program and hadn’t heard about the glass stockpile but says he’s not surprised. “While [the blue cart program] obviously gets more recyclables — I won’t argue about that at all — the quality of what we get was bound to drop” he says. “It’s disappointing to say the least…. Maybe we need to try to collect clear glass one week and coloured glass the next.”

Ald. Druh Farrell — a self-described “religious recycler” and one of the curbside program’s strongest council backers — was also unaware of the glass pile but is still convinced the program is worth every penny. “I imagine [during] the first years there will be some wrinkles” she says. “Even though most cities have been doing this for over a generation it’s new to Calgary.”

The glass problem isn’t unique to Calgary; municipalities across the country are facing the same challenges. In Edmonton for example the city is similarly stockpiling glass while it awaits the completion of a new recycling facility that will turn the glass into bricks. “That’s the good thing about glass — it’s easy to stockpile” says Christina Seidel executive director of the Recycling Council of Alberta. Glass she notes doesn’t get degraded over time like paper. “That’s the one advantage.”

Guy West president of the Alberta Beverage Container Recycling Corporation says his industry is having no problem selling bottles. “I think because the quality of our glass is so high we’re one of the preferred customers.”

Magdich says glass makes up five or six per cent of Calgary’s recycling stream and she estimates there are more than 1000 tonnes of glass in the landfill pile. One possible use for the glass she says is to use it as an aggregate replacement for road construction.

Natalie Odd executive director of Clean Calgary Association says the profit margin for glass has always been “very narrow.” The glass stockpile she adds should get people thinking beyond their blue carts about how challenging it is to recycle. “Maybe they think recycling is some magic disappearing act. It’s not…. You have to pick it up transport it sort it clean it and then take it somewhere for processing. It’s so difficult for recyclers to make any money.”

Until the city finds a buyer for the glass McDermid plans to be more conscious of what goes into his blue cart. He’s already been careful to keep refundable bottles out of his cart and now he plans to find more ways to re-use jars. “I’ll maybe hold off on putting glass into the cart if it’s just going to end up at the landfill in a big pile.”

In the meantime Stitt says he’s open to ideas for marketing the glass. “If you’ve got somebody that has an interest in some glass then we’re happy to talk to each and every one of them.”

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