Dear Recyclebank: Should glass bottles and jars be cushioned in the recycling bin to prevent breakage? What do I do with broken glass? –Susan S.
Dear Susan: Broken glass is one of those unfortunate items that is technically recyclable, but is not usually accepted for recycling — so keeping your glass bottles and jars from breaking is an important step in glass recycling.
If your curbside program is single-stream, and you are super organized with your waste, a great way to keep your glass from breaking when you put it in the bin is to place your paper items at the bottom. By lining the bottom with the newspapers and magazines, you’re softening the impact while also saving space in the bin (by compressing paper that would take up a lot of space if put on top). As an added bonus, you won’t have to worry about high winds blowing your paper all over the street.
However, if your curbside program requires you to sort by material, you shouldn’t add non-glass material to the bin for cushioning. Mixing materials will certainly gummy up the works and may make your entire batch unrecyclable. The best way to prevent your glass from breaking before it gets to the recycling center is to place each item in the bin one at a time, instead of tossing them from a distance. Going for a three-pointer from your garage door is something best left for your aluminum cans!
Broken glass is usually considered trash, for two good reasons: First, broken glass poses a safety risk to the employees who handle it. According to The Times News Weekly, in 2010, the New York City Department of Sanitation reported several hundred serious injuries to its employees as a result of broken glass disposal. The second reason broken glass isn’t accepted by recycling programs is because the type of glass its made of cannot be identified — and glass made for mirrors, windshields, and food containers are all made using different chemicals and processes, so these different types of glass cannot be recycled in the same way.
Before putting your broken glass in the trash, double check with your waste hauler to see if they have special accommodations for recycling broken glass — some programs may accept broken glass for recycling as long as it is kept separate from undamaged bottles and jars — or a preferred way to package glass for garbage removal. Generally, a safe way to package your broken glass for garbage removal is to put it in a paper bag or cardboard box and label it “Broken Glass” with a thick black marker. Then, leave it on top of or next to your garbage can.
If your program does not recycle broken glass and you’re interested in finding ways to keep your broken glass out of the landfill, contact local framers, windshield repair shops, and art schools to see if they will take your larger pieces of broken glass. They may have a use for these materials, or they may have disposal arrangements already in place that you might be able to take advantage of.
SOURCES: Dengarden.com, Glass Packaging Institute, Penn Waste, Recycling Council of British Columbia, Waste Management