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Because You Asked

Should I Cushion the Glass in My Recycling Bin?

By Recyclebank |

Broken glass doesn’t belong in your recycling bin, so how can you prevent breakage and dispose of broken glass properly?


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
 

 

 

What does your community’s waste hauler say about broken glass? Tell us in the comment section below.

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  • Julia P. 16 days ago
    I don't have curbside recycling, but bring my recycling to our local dump or transfer station. Here I put the glass items into a large, open, metal cargo container. When I lift the items over the side and dump them in, especially when the container is not very full, there is inevitably some breakage (either of my items or those already in the container). So I cannot imagine, given that is frequently impossible to not break the glass, that my recycling agent cares whether they are broken or not. Hopefully, the are transferred from the large container into something that breaks them into cullet for recycling. I can't imagine how else it could be processed from this method of collection.
  • Heather B. 19 days ago
    Sometimes I think the whole recycling thing (especially single stream recycling where contamination opportunities abound) is a sad joke played on people who actually care. Like others on here, I suspect that the glass I’ve carefully washed and cushioned in my recycling bin, gets tossed into a truck where a large percentage of it gets broken and then is unfit to be recycled. What is that percentage I wonder, Recyclebank? And, I;ve been told China, who used to accept some of our items for recycling, is accepting less because of the contamination issues. I also wonder what the carbon footprint is to ship items overseas for recycling? What are the real numbers on all this? I continue on with some vague hope that my consistent efforts with recycling might help in some small way, but I fear it’s a much smaller way than we’ve been lead to believe.
  • Samathy H. 22 days ago
    My city just drastically cut what it will accept for curbside recycling, and no longer accepts glass OR (surprisingly to me) newspapers. I guess with less buyers for recycled goods these days, due in large part to recent changes in our country's relationships with certain other countries, there is less profit incentive for recyclables collecting. So sad!!!
  • Doris W. 23 days ago
    Fortunately, we have an Owens-Illinois glass manufacturing and recycling place near me, so we take all our glass over there. They don't mind broken glass, as long as long as it's in the right pile (clear, green, or brown). I love the sound of breaking glass, so we all have a great time throwing our glass in the piles!
  • cheryl b. 23 days ago
    My glass is fine in my recycling container until the hauler dumps it in the truck where everything gets smashed.
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