By Stephanie Stuckey Benfield
As Mayor Kasim Reed’s Director of Sustainability, I’m proud to say that the City of Atlanta continues to lead as one of the nation’s top tier sustainable cities. Solid waste recycling plays a major role in achieving this goal and protecting our environmental health.
Like many of our peer cities, we provide a curbside, single stream recycling program for our residents, and currently accept all forms of recyclable material (household paper, cardboard, glass, cans, and plastics numbered 1-5 and 7).
Recently a few of our environmentally conscious residents inquired about how the City processes glass, and we want to be clear about our actions. The city contracts with WastePro to process our recycling. We continue to collect glass and recycle it to the fullest extent. However, glass is a commodity, and like any other commodity, markets fluctuate up and down. Right now market rates for glass are low. Because of these low rates, it is more cost efficient for much of the glass to be crushed and landfilled. If market rates improve and prices go up, the City’s contractor will recycle glass at a higher rate.
The other major recycling companies in the metropolitan Atlanta area have adopted similar policies related to glass: they collect glass but currently landfill it.
Sending glass to the landfill is environmentally sound. Glass is essentially made from liquid sand (silica). When crushed and sent to the landfill, glass takes up a minimal amount of volume and tonnage and does not produce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, unlike organic wastes.
While cities across the country have stopped processing glass for recycling and no longer accept glass as part of their residential recycling program, Atlanta remains committed to finding solutions that make sense for our economy and environment with our recycling program. We encourage residents to keep up their habit of placing glass jars and bottles in the Cartlanta bins because Waste Pro will resume glass recycling when the market rates improve.
Passionate and thoughtful residents who want the assurance that their used glass will always be recycled should drop their glass recycling off at the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials (“CHaRM”), a city-supported recycling facility located at 1110 Hill Street, SE. CHaRM has a contract with College Park-based Strategic Materials which processes 250-300 tons of mixed glass and garbage daily and does recycle glass. CHaRM also accepts a wide variety of household hazardous waste, bulky trash, and other hard-to-recycle items.
Of course, the best approach to decreasing waste going into our landfills is to focus on the first two of the three R’s: reduce and reuse before you recycle.
Atlanta wants to be forward thinking in our recycling strategy. We know that markets recover, and we want Atlanta to have both the means and the mindset to make the most of that recovery.
Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, a former state representative from DeKalb County and long-time environmental advocate, is the Director of the Office of Sustainability for the City of Atlanta.