The global market for recycled materials is bad right now. There are gluts of everything from cans to paper, but in Anchorage, where recycled glass has been piling up for months, the issue isn't global, it's local.
Recycling glass here has always been a problem. It costs too much to ship it out of state. And now most of the local market has dried up.
So starting Monday, glass recycling will no longer be available in Anchorage. Everyone's bottles will end up in the landfill because no one has been able to figure out how to use recycled glass and make a profit.
EK Industries, the local company that has been accepting all glass turned in for recycling, makes several types of sand-like materials, used for blasting and as a bed for radiant in-floor heating, explained Jeanne Carlson, the city's recycling coordinator. But there are not enough takers for those products to use all the glass collected.
A significant market for glass was the Alaska Railroad, which bought a ground glass compound to use as traction sand, according to spokesman Tim Thompson.
After a year of testing, it turned out the sand didn't work in the winter.
"We had some slippage," he said.
For safety reasons, they had to stop using it.
So the glass continued to pile up. Industrious local recyclers were hauling in around 12 tons a week, said Bob Tenge, plant manager for Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation, which runs the recycling center.
EK has enough glass to meet its needs for months, Carlson said. No one from EK answered the phone at the facility on Tuesday.
But get this: recycled glass from Outside, made into countertop material by a company in Texas, sells at Spenard Builder's Supply for $145 a square foot.
Could designer kitchen products be a solution for Alaska?
Even if we were able to manufacture countertops or flooring, which has been done in some places, there just isn't enough market in Alaska to support large-scale production, said Dale Campbell, a branch manager at Curtis & Campbell, which sells several types of recycled glass tiles and other flooring material. And the shipping cost to get an Alaska-made product like that to market Outside would make it hard to compete with other recycled glass products.
Another problem is the equipment used to crush the glass, Carlson said. It's so old sometimes there's trouble finding replacement parts. There would need to be a major upgrade to manufacture high-end products.
Recyclers have been dialing Carlson with suggestions for weeks. Many want to know why the glass can't be used in asphalt or road building. The problem there is that road projects specify certain materials be used, and recycled glass isn't one of them, she said. EK has been experimenting with some nice-looking paver tiles, but production hasn't yet taken off, either.
"There's so much that can be done," she said. "If you can just get the economics right."
Find Julia O'Malley online at adn.com/contact/jomalley or call 257-4591.
By JULIA O'MALLEY