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Declining market causes Hooksett to curb glass recycling; other towns to follow?

Union Leader Correspondent

March 28. 2018 7:52PM
A sign instructing residents to throw away glass is on the counter at the Hooksett Transfer Station. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Lacking a place to send its recycled glass, the Hooksett Department of Public Works Department has announced it will no longer accept glass.

“Glass has always been hard to find markets for, but with local glass disposal sites closing down we have no markets at all,” reads a notice posted last week on the town website.

It is a challenge facing other communities as well.

Garrett Trierweiler, Waste Management Senior Manager for Public Affairs, said his company services communities throughout New England, all of which are finding significant roadblocks in their single-stream recycling efforts.

“The market for recycled glass in New England is very limited at this time as there are only a few facilities accepting material,” said Trierweiler. “Making matters worse, a bottling plant in Massachusetts that utilized recycled glass closed recently. This means that even when glass is collected, there are few, if any places in the Northeast for it to be processed into cullet for new glass bottles.”

Hooksett residents are being asked to dispose of all glass bottles and other glass products in their trash receptacles.

Hooksett Department of Public Works Director, Diane Boyce, said the decision was primarily financial and it’s only a matter of time before other communities follow suit.

“I know they’re all buzzing out there, that’s all I hear,” said Boyce. “Maybe we were the first ones, but looking back, glass has always been a problem, so for us it was — let’s get our first problem child out of the way first, and if things change, it’s easy enough to say to people, ‘OK, you can start recycling glass again.’”

Boyce said even when Hooksett was making a profit off recycling, which it hasn’t since late last year, glass was at best a financial net-zero.

“It has always kind of contaminated the other recycling, and there’s a lot of weight to it, so if we’re paying more now for recycling than we are trash, then let’s get rid of the contaminant to begin with, and if everything I’m hearing is coming true, that there’s not going to be an end market for the glass,” Boyce said “It just makes sense to get that out first and see where everything goes from here.”

A garbage truck unloads its contents at the Hooksett Transfer Station on Wednesday. The town will no longer accept glass as a recycling item and are directing residents to throw it away with trash. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Market pressures

Manchester Environmental Programs Manager Mark Gomez said the Queen City has also encountered issues with glass.

“In collection systems where multiple products are combined in one container, it is common for the value of glass to be diminished due to both breakage and contamination from other recyclables,” he said. “It’s also true that pieces of glass mixed in with other recyclables diminish the value of those materials.”

Joseph Fusco, a vice president at Casella Waste Systems, said glass has “never been a high-value material because there aren’t a lot of high-value end uses.”

“Where as you can take newspaper and make more newspaper and plastic and make more bottles of laundry detergent, the technology just isn’t there for glass, which has always made it a challenge for us,” Fusco said.

In addition to the instability of the glass market, Fusco said new regulations in China concerning reduced contamination levels for mixed papers and plastics have stunted the global recycling marketplace as well.

“It’s really putting a lot of pressure on the economics recycling all around,” said Fusco. “In a bad time, glass is getting pounded especially.”

“Recycling is variable and based on the market,” said Goffstown Public Works Director Meghan Therialt. “When things like (the bottle plant closure) happen, it now costs Casella (and other waste removal companies) more money, and that cost gets reflected back to us.”

Bedford Director of Public Works Jeffrey Foote said the recycling market, especially concerning glass, is taking a nose dive, not just locally, but regionally.

Action, he said, isn’t likely a question of “if,” but “when.”

“We’re in the process of discussing all alternatives because the recycling commodity market is in the tank, and what’s happening is the price of single-stream recyclables, when you include glass, has gone up dramatically,” said Foote. “The recycling portion at the transfer station has gone up $25 a ton since December, so that’s significant.”

One long-term solution that’s being considered internally at the Bedford Public Works Department is the purchase of an industrial glass crusher, said Foote.

“We’re still in the infancy of that proposal,” he said. “It’s nothing that’s been discussed outside this department, and obviously we would seek and require the support of residents and the town council before moving forward with a plan like that.”

If that plan, or something similar were to come to fruition, Foote said residents would likely be asked to separate glass from the rest of its recycling, and the town would then most certainly use the glass for pavement projects.

Fred Burgess, who recently moved to Hooksett, is concerned with the town’s new policy prohibiting glass recycling. “I hate the thought of glass going back into landfills,” he says. (Ryan O’Connor/Union Leader Correspondent)

Goffstown on standby

Theriault said last year Goffstown made a profit off its recycling through October, when rates suddenly spiked. Now, town officials are considering their options.

“We weren’t prepared for rates to go up as much as they have,” she said. “We do have a budget, but it’s not a huge budget. So we did our best to make an assumption and have already talked to the board of selectmen and are monitoring the situation closely.

In the meantime, Goffstown is standing pat with regard to single-stream recycling.

“Right now, I think it’s going to be more than the budget we have, but things could just as easily change the other way. Just as quickly as they went up, they could possibly go down,” said Theriault. “We have no way of knowing what the rates are going to be, so we’re waiting patiently so we can make the best decision for our town once that information is available.”

Unlike some of Manchester’s neighboring communities, Gomez said the city’s current agreement with Pinard Waste Systems of Hooksett provides financial protections that have mitigated the impact of recent market disruptions.

“Manchester has been closely monitoring the situation,” said Gomez. “We are not planning to take any action in the near future. We will continue to assess impacts and implications over the long term.

Nick Lewis recycles cardboard at the Hooksett Transfer Station on Wednesday. The town will no longer accept glass as a recycling item and are directing residents to throw it away with trash. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Unfolding crisis

Theriault said she and many of her colleagues are planning to attend an upcoming meeting with the Northeast Resource Recovery Association to discuss glass and other pertinent issues.

“I’m curious if we’re going to be talking about (glass),” she said. “I’d like to know how other towns are handling it because it’s really unknown right now how bad it’s going to get or when it’s going to get better. It’s a crisis that’s still sort of unfolding.”

Boyce said the initial reaction from Hooksett residents has been primarily positive.

“If anything, they’re all curious why,” she said. “You know, it’s not because we wanted to, it’s because of the markets and the cost of it.”

Hooksett resident Fred Burgess, who brings his own recyclables to the Hooksett Transfer Station, doesn’t like the idea of throwing away glass.

“I guess my concern is what are other towns doing,” he said. “I can’t believe there’s not a buyer for the glass. I guess it’s true, but I’m shocked. Trash is a huge problem. Not just here, it’s everywhere, and I hate the thought of glass going back into landfills.”

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