Arlington County’s recycling costs continue to rise; future of glass uncertain

Arlington County’s costs for recycling is continuing to rise after a Chinese ban last year, officials said, but most of what residents place in the recycling bin is still getting recycled.

Costs for processing recyclables have risen from $15.73 per ton to $28.62 per ton in the last six months as the value of items such as paper and plastics is plummeting, Arlington’s chief of solid waste Erik Grabowsky told ARLnow Wednesday.

Recyclables remain cheaper than trash, which costs the county $43.16 per ton, but the industry lost the primary way items get recycled.

Recycling is a $200 billion global industry with China importing as much as 70 percent — that is, until the country abruptly stopped in January 2018 over pollution concerns. The loss of such a big buyer has plummeted the value of some plastics and low-grade paper, forcing many cities to nix recycling all together, The New York Times reported last week.

“The China ban has negatively impacted recycling commodity markets around the world. As a result, the value of the recycling material collected in the county has declined,” Gabrowsky said.

Another ongoing problem for the county is glass.

Glass may seem like an easy material to reuse, but “single-stream” recycling systems like Arlington’s often shatter bottles. The result are mixed-up colored glass shards, which makes it difficult to separate from other recyclable materials.

County officials announced in October that Arlington might end glass recycling, but a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Services said Wednesday that the county “is still studying the issue and has not made a decision on whether or not to remove glass from the recycling stream at this time.”

He said Wednesday the county is sending almost all the glass collected from people’s recycling bins to landfills. (Paper and plastics are still being recycled, Gabrowsky said.)

The only exception is glass delivered to the county’s two drop-off centers at N. Quincy Street and Washington Blvd. and 2700 S. Taylor St.

Glass from those two containers is shipped to Fairfax County, where local officials are experimenting with a pulverization machine that smashes glass into sand they hope can be used to repair roads.

Though the future of Arlington’s glass is uncertain, he said the county will “continue to collect the same recyclable material list, but would ask that residents adhere strictly to the list and not place items into the recycling cart that are not recyclable like plastic bags.”

More advice on recycling smart and reducing waste from DES, below:

  • “By far the best way to manage our waste is to generate less waste to begin with. Consider reusing, repairing and donating items before you dispose them.”
  • “Make sure food and beverage containers are empty and free from food and other residue before you place them into the blue cart. It is a good idea to do a quick rinse to containers that held anything that can spoil.”
  • “When you recycle, include only correct materials. Leave out things like plastic bags, plastic foam cups and plates, food residue, liquids and miscellaneous garbage.”
  • “To find out how to properly dispose of items, check out our Where Does It Go? directory.”

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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