What To Do When You Can't Recycle GlassIn our hometown, we cannot recycle glass. We moved from Toronto, ON to Saint John, NB last year. When we made our first trip to the recycling center, we were surprised to find out that there is no local buyer for glass. As such, the Fundy Region Solid Waste Commission ceased to collect it. Naturally, this frustrates us.

Our beer and wine bottles can be dropped off at the local bottle return where they are taken to be recycled and refilled. Excellent. But what about our cooking oil bottles? Our empty pickle and olive jars? Those get put directly into the garbage. And then into the landfill. This just seems wasteful since there are so many uses for recycled glass – and recycling glass consumes way fewer resources than purchasing it anew.

Our Challenge

Over the weekend, as we placed yet another empty bottle into the trash, we decided that enough is enough. We need to figure out what the heck to do with our glass. This week, we’ll be considering a few options, including (1) finding someone who’ll take it and use it, (2) finding ways to re-use it ourselves, and (3) just not buying it.

And so our quest to consume responsibly continues. Stay tuned to find out how we decide to deal with this dilemma.

Our Tale

It appears that we may have finally “bitten off more than we can chew”, so to speak.  Finding something to do with our glass has certainly proven to be a challenge.  If you care to hear the details of our week, please read on.  If you’d prefer just to skip to Our Findings, please do so.

The Glass Surplus

Our first task this week was figuring out how many glass jars and bottles we purchase and how many of those we already re-purpose at home.  We learned that we consume roughly 3 non-recyclable glass bottles per week – about 12 per month – or 150 per year.  These are mainly sauce jars, condiment jars and bottles for oil and vinegar.

Of the 3 glass bottles we empty each week, we re-use just 1 of them for other purposes like storing homemade jam, loose nails or cooking fat.  That leaves 2 non-recyclable glass products per week for our trash – about 8 per month – or 100 per year.

Reduce – Stop Buying Glass

Now, 100 jars and bottles per year is probably small potatoes compared to how much other packaging we use; however, we have always been believers that glass is a good, toxin-free option for packaging.  We typically opt for it when available.  Knowing that it sits in a landfill forever just doesn’t sit well with us.

So, what should we do?  Can we reduce the amount of glass we use (and therefore trash) by two-thirds in order to balance out our glass surplus?  Here are the alternatives we spent most of the week considering.

Plastic. Many sources actually claim that it is more straightforward and energy-efficient to consume plastic than glass.  Others claim that it consumes more energy to recycle plastic than to create it anew.  Regardless, I’m still very uncomfortable with plastic.

My main concern is all of those toxic resins that can leach into our food and the environment.  Last week, we spent the whole week essentially trying not to buy plastic.  (Check out last week’s post Kick The Can: Take the BPA Challenge.)  It simply can’t be that we’re now going to replace all of our safe glass packaging with plastic.  Until we know for sure what plastics are safe for ourselves and the environment, we’re steering clear.

Cans.  You know all of those BPA-containing resins we just discussed?  Well, they’re also in the majority of cans.  If Eden Foods made olives and pickles, all of our problems might be solved, but they don’t.  As such, cans are pretty much out too.

TetraPak. I honestly thought that TetraPaks (aseptic packaging) might be the answer for us.  I even went so far as to locate olive oil and olives packaged in TetraPaks.  But once I started digging, I learned that TetraPaks are actually really hard to recycle.  Recyclers basically have to scrape all of the various layers apart and remove only the paper portion.  From the remaining pulp, they can make recycled toilet paper and the like.  The other layers – which, ironically, are plastic and aluminum – cannot be recycled.

I checked with the Fundy Region Solid Waste Commission (our local recycling authority) and they do not recycle TetraPaks. They suggested I check with our local bottle return; however, none of the products we use are collected there either.

No Packaging. Since we couldn’t find a suitable alternative packaging, we decided to look into whether we could buy the items we want in bulk.  Unfortunately, they all require more structured packaging because they are – well – liquid-based.  Next we considered bringing our own jars to the bulk food store and using those, but we couldn’t figure out a way to appropriately weigh our goods for payment.  (Seriously, if anyone has a good way to do this, please let us know!)

So, for now, we are stuck with glass.  There must be another solution.

Re-use – Finding a Taker

So, if we can’t reduce, perhaps we can re-use?

I’m not really a crafty girl, so I had to cast a wide net for ideas here.  As always, the Baby Center Crunchy Mamas Group came through for me.  One mom suggested that I start (1) storing my dried goods in glass jars, (2) using glass jars for freezing and (3) using them for gifts for other families.  Another mom suggested that I donate the jars to local schools for crafts.  All good ideas.  Thanks ladies!

I also found a couple of great sites with some neat glass jar and bottle projects for the more crafty readers (i.e. not me).
The Mom Writes
Green Your Way
Planet Green

As I said, I’m really not crafty, but this did get the creative juices flowing.  I started frantically phoning local schools.  Then I remembered “Ummm – it’s summer”.  I mostly got answering machines.

Next, I tried local food banks in case they needed packaging for the food they distribute.  Unfortunately, they are not open every day either, so I had to leave messages. By this time, it was getting close to my self-imposed blog deadline, so I’ll have to update this post at a later date.

My final attempt at re-use was to post an ad on Kijiji asking if anyone wanted my glass jars for whatever purpose they might like – on a monthly basis.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Recycle

Obviously we wouldn’t be having this issue if we could just find a buyer for our glass here in Saint John, NB.  There are many uses for recycled glass.  It can be used to create more of the same – or it can be used in secondary products like countertops, tile, beads or bricks – to name a few.

It was a tough week, but we are still hopeful that something will come through and we will one day be able to locally recycle our glass.  If anyone has thoughts or input on how to speed this along, please leave us a comment.

Our Findings

So, what the heck will we do with our glass?  I guess we’ll keep working on it.  For now, we will start using our empty jars for storage of dried goods, frozen goods and gifts.  We have decided to no longer throw our jars in the garbage.  Instead, we will store them in our basement until we can recycle them or find a good re-use for them.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed that something comes up.

The Goodness

What good could come out of not putting any glass in the trash?  It’s twofold.  First, we wouldn’t need to manufacture as much glass.  I like how Treehugger quantifies it.  Here it is verbatim.

“If we were to recycle 50% more glass than we are currently recycling here in the US, we would save enough energy to power 45,000 homes for an entire year! That is a small town running off of the energy savings from recycling glass. Not only does recycling glass in the mix cut down on energy to make glass products, but it also cuts down on emissions of other particulates and toxins produced.  According to Paul Smith, Owens-Illinois’ “cullet guy” in a recent edition of Resource Recycling Magazine, ‘if we were to recycle just 10% more glass here in the US, we would reduce sulfur-oxide emissions by 10%; particulates by 8%; and nitrogen oxide by 4%.’”

Second, we wouldn’t have as much glass sitting in our landfills waiting for hundreds of years to break down.  Yes, it’s only 100 items per household per year, but it’s 100 items that can easily be completely removed from the landfill.  Glass is 100 percent recyclable.  Now let’s get on the phone to our reps and make it happen. Good things to come.

 

Image: Paul / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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About the Author

Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

2 Responses to What To Do When You Can’t Recycle Glass

  1. Andrea, I’ve really been enjoying reading about what you and Carl are doing to help the environment. You’re making some big changes that I admire. I have a really big suggestion (or rather a challenge I suppose) to help with your challenge of recycling glass. What if you completely embraced going local (in the methods you used in your previous post) and purchased mounds of produce to preserve yourself? If you’ve never done it before it is less challenging than it seems. You’d need to invest initially for the right equipment, but then you’re set. A couple days over the summer and you’d have beans, tomatoes, even fruit to last you all year. And when you finish with a jar, you can just wash it out and save it for next season. In the meantime, Classico tomato sauces come in mason jars so you can save those up and then just buy new lids!

  2. Andrea says:

    Jennifer, great to hear from you! Thanks for taking the time to check us out. This is actually the first challenge anyone has suggested, so double thanks!

    I really like it. We have been trying to figure out how to keep fruits and veggies over the winter, but we’ve been leaning more towards a root cellar. Preserving them is a great alternative. I have a few veggies in containers out back that may fit the bill. Do you have any good sites/ tips you can point me to? I’d like to understand what we might be getting ourselves into!

    We’ve now given all of our jars away through kijiji, but there are always more to come.

    Thanks again. Hope all is well with you guys!

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