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Arlington County ditches glass recycling

Arlington recycling bins (Flickr pool photo by Aaron Webb)

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner ARLnow.com and republished with permission.
Arlington County is asking residents to trash glass, following a vote by the County Board last night.

Board members passed an amendment to the county code allowing the County Manager to delete materials from the list of what Arlington recycles. The move was made to allow County Manager Mark Schwartz to remove glass from the list after officials said it had become too expensive to recycle.

The county says in a press release that those who receive residential trash and recycling pickup service in Arlington should throw away glass in their black trash containers instead of the blue recycling bins. That will make things easier for the county’s recycling processor, which is currently sending glass to landfills.

The new county directive does not apply to those in offices, apartments and other commercial properties, whose waste collection is handled by private contractors.

Alternatively, people can dump their glass at one of two designated drop-off locations — at Quincy Park (N. Quincy Street and Washington Blvd) or the Arlington Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) — which carts it to Fairfax County for an experiment in paving roads with smashed up glass.

“The County anticipates establishing additional drop-off locations to make it more convenient for residents, though no specific sites are yet under consideration,” said the county’s press release. “Glass that customers deposit in their black trash carts will be processed at the Covanta Waste-to-Energy facility in Alexandria where it will be incinerated and turned into electricity.”

Arlington’s new approach to glass is based on environmental and economic sustainability. Keeping glass out of the blue bins will make the paper, metal and plastic more valuable to recyclers. Glass dropped off at Quincy and Trades is crushed in @fairfaxcounty and used locally. pic.twitter.com/eiUQl4YT97

— Arlington Department of Environmental Services (@ArlingtonDES) April 26, 2019

The county’s “single-stream” recycling systems often shatter glass, which then mixes up different-colored shards and reduces its value, Arlington’s chief of solid waste Erik Grabowsky previously told ARLnow.

Recouping lost value is also harder than ever because of China’s decision to stop accepting some recycling materials, which led Arlington’s recycling costs to rise from $15.73 per ton to $28.62 per ton in the last six months, according to Grabowksy.

“We do have to come to grips with the fundamental reality that we are living in a fraudulent experience,” said Board Chair Christian Dorsey last night. “Because every time we put glass in our blue containers it’s not doing what we expect that it does. It’s being put in a landfill which is contrary to what we want, and not only that, but it’s costing us more money to do it.”


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Grabowsky said that removing glass will lower the county’s overall recycling rate this year by 1 percent.

The good news, he says, is that the current recycling rate is 50.1 percent — a number already exceeding the county’s goal to recycle 47 percent of waste by 2024.

Now Grabowksy and the county want people to think about buying less glass, and finding ways to re-purpose it before throwing it out.

“Ultimately, what we want to do is establish a new glass hierarchy for Arlington county,” he said. In the press release, the county said residents should consider prioritizing the purchase of items in containers made of “recyclable metal or even plastic.”

Mark Schwartz said he hoped to identify three additional location for glass drop-off centers by August, but acknowledged it may take more time adding recycling facilities to neighborhoods “may not be met warmly.”

Grabowsky said that starting next month, that the county will begin notifying people of the change in recycling glass with with digital and mailed letters.

“I didn’t anticipate that this would ever be an issue a few years ago,” Schwartz said. “But the economy and the international relationships we’ve had as the United States have changed in the last two years and some months, for some reason.”

Flickr pool photo by Aaron Webb

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