Why can’t Nelson recycle glass?

Financial constraints have foiled local ambitions to recycle glass.

Glass can't be recycled in Nelson unless it is delivered to the transfer station.

Glass can't be recycled in Nelson unless it is delivered to the transfer station.

Second in a series on recycling in Nelson

Nelson doesn’t recycle glass.

Right now if residents leave a glass container — say a pop bottle, or a mayonnaise jar — in the blue bag on garbage day, city workers will leave it behind. Though the rest of the recycling is suitable to be transported to the sorting facility, glass doesn’t make the cut.

The recycling depot in Castlegar is run by Multi-Material BC (MMBC), a provincially mandated organization paid for by the producers of recyclable materials. Typically they include glass in their program, but so far they haven’t been able to incorporate the service locally — though they aspire to.

“Nelson is an anomaly,” managing director Allen Langdon told the Star.

“In most of our jurisdictions across the province that have curb-side pick up, we also have a depot to collect glass. Nelson is one of the last communities where we’ve been unsuccessful in finding a partner willing to do that.”

Which means for the time being if you want to recycle glass, you have to take matters into your own hands.


RDCK: ‘We like it because glass doesn’t disintegrate’

One option for recycling glass is the Grohman Narrows transfer station, where they have green bins you can deposit them in.

It’s out on the highway towards Castlegar, and it’s run by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK).

Once glass arrives there it will be gathered up and stored until the regional government has a project, and then it will be used to help with road construction.

“We collect the glass in our truck, haul it up to our landfill site where it’s stored over time, then it’s used for specific projects,” the RDCK’s environmental services manager Uli Wolf said.

“It’s used under the gravel as a sub-layer. It’s an additional cost-free construction material that’s been been ground up until there’s no sharp pointy ends that are dangerous for tires. We like it because glass doesn’t disintegrate.”

But the RDCK doesn’t actually receive much glass these days, partially because many producers have switched to plastic.

“Glass packaging is a relatively small fraction of what we see, and there’s been less and less over the years. It’s a high weight, low volume material and because of that it’s less and less used.”


MMBC: ‘We’ve been actively looking for a location’

In order to bring Nelson up to speed with the rest of the province, MMBC needs a business to open a local glass processing depot. They’ve entered into discussions with the Nelson Leafs depot in Railtown, but so far nothing has come of that.

“We’ve been actively looking for a partner and location for a depot, we want to have this discussion, but so far we’ve had no takers,” Langdon said.

“Ideally the depot would not only take glass, it would also take plastic bags and styrofoam. If we could work something out with the Nelson Leafs, that would be great. The ball is in their court at the moment.”

Once they find a depot, the glass will be turned into cullet — a material that can be easily turned into new bottles. Langdon said there are a number of other possibilities for it, including using it for sand-blasting or road-building.

“Once we find a location, we’ll be able to have complete coverage. That’s our responsibility and we’ll work on that.”

He said though MMBC is ahead of the curve when it comes to PPP recycling (that stands for printed paper and packaging), it’s still struggling to come up with an adequate system for recycling glass in isolated communities.


Environment consultant: ‘It’s just the right thing to do’

The biggest problem recyclers are having with glass is that it’s simply too expensive and heavy to ship long distances. In other words: there’s no market for it.

But that said, many residents would like to see it done anyway.

“I’ve never believed recycling is something that should pay for itself. It’s just the right thing to do,” environmental consultant Michael Jessen told the Star.

“And often the right thing to do isn’t the most economic.”

Jessen formerly ran a recycling depot for the RDCK, and has been a passionate advocate for progressive waste management strategies for the past few decades.

He feels that local politicians should “show some vision” and embrace innovative strategies. Jessen is profoundly disappointed with the city’s inaction, and glass is only one part of his complaint.

“The political decisions that have been made by the City of Nelson, and in the RDCK, have not supported a robust recycling system. I look at it today and I cannot believe how far behind the times we are,” he said.

“Their attitude is ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and that’s been their attitude for as long as I’ve lived in Nelson. They haven’t cared enough to even explore some of the options.”

What are those options?

“We need to find a local entrepreneur to take on recycling glass. This is a material that needs to be exploited locally and turned into an economic resource,” he said.

“It could be collected and made into those foggy glass bricks you see in public washrooms, it could be turned into stepping stones for garden paths, it could even be ground up and turned into sand for golf course sand traps.”


Recycling council: ‘There may not be an easy answer’

As nice as that sounds, though, Brock MacDonald of the Recycling Council of British Columbia (RCBC) believes it’s going to take large-scale cooperation between multiple institutions to address the glass issue.

Both its unwieldy weight and the lack of processing facilities have made glass a flash-point of controversy across B.C.

“This is not just a Nelson issue — it’s province-wide — and it has to do with markets and the availability of processing facilities,” Macdonald said.

“There used to be a processing facility in the south central interior, but it closed quite a number of years ago and there’s never been a replacement.”

This issue is on their radar, though.

“This is something we at RCBC are always looking at, and it will come up at our conference in June: what kind of regional solutions can we come up with? And there may not be an easy answer.”

MacDonald cited one recent study done by the University of Northern British Columbia that proposed using recycled glass as a replacement for sand traps on golf courses. Another option is turning it into fiberglass insulation.

“It’s all about having access to a market,” he said.

“There may end up being some B.C.-developed solution at some point, but we have to remember that we operate in a market system, and take that into account.”