The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 26, 2009

No market for recycled green glass

North Mankato wants relief from mandate

By Mark Fischenich

NORTH MANKATO — The state requires that green glass be collected as part of recycling programs, so it is. And because it is collected, most residents rinse out the green wine and beer bottles, place them on the curb each week and fully expect the glass is beginning a journey that ends with a new bottle being produced from the old one.

Problem is, nobody wants the green glass.

So North Mankato and Nicollet County, which operate a joint recycling center on the city’s north side, wonder what purpose is served by continuing to collect a product that’s destined to end up in the landfill. And they want the state to either come up with a way to spur demand for green glass or put an end to the requirement that it be collected along with the other items that actually get recycled.

“Either you amend what you require to be recycled or you create incentives or disincentives in the marketplace,” said North Mankato City Administrator Wendell Sande of what the state needs to do. “... It’s not fair to have a mandate that you can’t fulfill. You’re required to take something, but you have nowhere to take it (to be reused) in the end.”

Nicollet County commissioners brought the issue to state Sen. Kathy Sheran this week, asking that something be done.

Sheran, DFL-Mankato, serves on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, but last week marked the first time she’s heard about the green glass problem. That might be because the problem has gotten worse, she said. Or it might be that local governments, facing extreme budget problems due to cuts in state aid, are scouring their spending for any expenses that can be eliminated.

And they’re also looking more closely at state mandates that cost local governments money — mandates the Legislature could potentially eliminate. Either way, the glass glut is a problem.

“The market for green glass has dried up,” Sheran said. “It’s a required recyclable, but there’s nowhere to send it.”

Sheran said she would consider introducing legislation to address the problem when the Legislature returns to session in February. But before committing to that, she wants to know if the glut of green glass is a temporary problem the marketplace will address.

She also wonders if there’s anything the state can do to encourage a market. If that’s not possible, the state could consider charging a fee to companies that use green glass to help cover the disposal costs.

Low or nonexistent demand for green glass has occurred elsewhere, resulting in mountains of the stuff at some recycling centers and prompting some recycling programs to drop it from collections. The glass is as recyclable as brown and clear glass. But once color has been added to glass, it’s there to stay — so green glass can only be recycled into more green glass.

Glass bottles aren’t recycled exclusively into new bottles. They’re also made into fiberglass insulation and other building materials, so the downturn in the construction industry has probably played a role as well in the falling demand.

The revenue side of the Recycling Center’s ledger shows the economic downturn more generally, with declining payments for most recyclables, said North Mankato Finance Director Steve Mork. Still, other materials generate some revenue: $31,000 for newspapers in 2008, $25,000 for cardboard, nearly $21,000 for aluminum.

No. 1 plastics (everything from soda bottles to peanut butter containers) were sold for nearly $14,000, clear glass delivered $4,600 and even brown glass was purchased for $1,627. Green glass brought in $0, and that’s continued in 2009.

“Our revenues are down $60,000,” Mork said of 2009. “... There’s no market. Glass? You can’t get rid of the green.”