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Anchorage gets glass recycling, again

Suzanna CaldwellAlaska Dispatch News
Amanda Coyne photo

Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect address for the Anchorage Recycling Center. It's located at 6161 Rosewood St., not Rosebud. We regret the error.

Starting later this month, Anchorage's eco-conscious residents will have the chance to recycle glass again, thanks to an expanded service for the city. Although curbside service will not be available to residents of Alaska's largest city, a service that ended in 2009 is being jump-started by Central Recycling Services, with a facility that will collect bottles and glass to turn into essentially gravel.

Kauai Alpha, recycling director for Central Recycling Services, says the collected glass will be turned into pea gravel -- 1/8-inch pieces of processed glass that can be used in construction projects, similar to the type of gravel found around neighborhood playgrounds. The gravel will used for a variety of projects: pipe bedding, trench backfill and other construction projects.

Central Recycling spent the summer trying to figure out what to do with the 800 tons of glass leftover from a pre-2009 glass-recycling operation at Point Woronzof near Anchorage's international airport. A lot of crushed glass later -- which was done to test for compression and density -- and CRS has developed the pea gravel-like product. It sells for about $15 a ton, less than what it would cost to for the same amount of regular gravel.

Mary Fisher, executive director of Alaskans for Litter Recycling and Prevention (ALPAR), has been coordinating glass collection with the city. She says the glass recycling is scheduled to begin Nov. 15 -- just in time for America Recycles Day -- but the launch may be pushed back. "Dates are soft right now due to a problem with the bins that is getting fixed," she said in an email Wednesday. "My guess is that they will be in place on" Nov. 15.

Long time coming

Currently, Anchorage residents wishing to recycle glass depend on a program run by local Target stores. But Target can only handle small amounts. Local stores declined to say how much glass they collect. A corporate spokeswoman also declined to give specific numbers, but said that nationally more than 1,000 tons of plastic, glass and aluminum are recycled each year at Targets.

Based on national averages, a city the size of Anchorage (population of about 300,000) produces some 15,000 tons of glass a year -- about 5 percent of Anchorage's annual 301,000 tons of waste hauled to the landfill. It's estimated that under the new glass recycling initiative, about 10 to 30 percent of the city's total glass waste will be collected. In previous incarnations of glass recycling in Anchorage, about 20 to 30 tons of glass was recycled each week, equal to about  1,500 tons -- 500 dump trucks -- being diverted from the landfill.

The road to Anchorage recycling has been long and tedious, with many residents clamoring for years for citywide glass recycling, as previous attempts have come and gone. Ask anyone who handles recycling in Anchorage, and they'll tell you they get calls and emails almost on a daily basis inquiring into what to do with glass.

“Anchorage is developing a recycling attitude,” Alpha says. “It's small, but that's all we can ask for.”

Glass has been a tricky recycling prospect for the city. It's heavy and hard to transport, and because the material used to make glass is an already abundant , the city has faced economic challenges when it comes to recycling. When glass recycling first debuted in Anchorage in the 1990s, the glass waste was shipped on barges to the Lower 48, a messy and expensive process, Fisher says.

Several companies have tried to make a go at glass recycling. The most promising included turning the glass into sandblasting material for shipyards. The last company to try to make a go of it, E.K. Industries, took over the operation in 2007, but couldn't make the economics of glass recycling work. Its glass collection ceased in 2009.

In 2011, Central Recycling took control of the grinders and glass conveyor belts in exchange for cleaning up the 800 tons of left-behind glass. The city awarded the company up to $85,000 in grants to develop methods to process the glass.

Now, with the pea gravel product in hand, Central Recycling is ready to start collecting more glass. Alpha says the recycling company -- which mainly handles construction and demolition debris -- will store the glass until spring, when it's warm enough to start running the grinders. Alpha says the company is expecting “quite the large stockpile.”

The pea gravel being produced by Central Recycling is dependent on construction needs. While other companies in the city have dabbled in glass recycling projects -- Glacierstone Solid Surfaces uses locally recycled glass to create counter tops -- none are of a major scale. To make glass recycling economical, utilities and  construction companies are going to need be laying “miles and miles” of trenches to accommodate the recycled backfill, Alpha said.

“When we start this up again, we want it to last,” she says.

Facts on recycling glass

A few things to know before you start recycling glass:

* Collections will be done at South Anchorage's RockTenn facility, 6161 Rosewood St. Call to confirm that collections after started: (907) 562-2267. Alpha says don't bring your glass to Central Recycling's facility near Ship Creek. The company doesn't have the equipment there necessary to handle glass, and with lots of heavy machinery roaming around, it isn't a safe place for people to be dropping off recyclables.

* Not all glass is recyclable. Alpha says only glass from food containers, plain ceramics and window glass can be recycled. No safety glass, light bulbs, television cathode tubes or porcelain products will be accepted.

* Be patient. Mary Fisher of ALPAR says if people with glass find the bins full, they should not try to stuff extra glass into the containers or leave the glass by the bins. This will help prevent tire damage.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com

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