Glass recycling in Anchorage is closer to becoming a reality once again.
After almost three years of having no place to recycle glass, the group Alaskans for Litter Prevention and Recycling is preparing to roll out a program giving Anchorage residents the chance to start making deposits again.
All the pieces are still coming together according to ALPAR Executive Director Mary Fisher, but the group hopes to have glass recycling in place by late summer.
But don't start collecting glass quite yet, she warned. ALPAR still has to work out a few more details. And the company in charge of handling the glass -- Central Recycling Services -- first must process 800 tons of glass leftover when the previous Anchorage glass recycler discontinued operations.
"That's another factor that's creating the need for us to wait to roll this new collection program out," Fisher said. "We're very adamant that the (current) glass has to go . . . before we start a collection program."
Glass to road, construction projects
Most critical, Central Recycling Services is still looking for a glass buyer. The Municipality of Anchorage, one prospect, recently approved the use of 10 percent aggregate crushed glass for use in certain road construction applications. The state has not yet decided how much recycled glass can be used in its construction projects. But Fisher said approval is near, with the state still awaiting Federal Highway Administration support.
Kauai Alpha, recycling director at Central Recycling Services, declined to answer questions about the program until glass recycling is available to Anchorage residents.
In 2009 glass recycling in Anchorage ceased when the sole operator of a glass-processing facility, E.K. Industries, discontinued operations. The company sold sandblasting glass to a shipyard in Seward, but the amount of recycled glass came in faster than it could be processed. The company went through multiple owners, according to Fisher. Even with subsidies from ALPAR, the city couldn't make a profitable go of glass recycling.
In the early 1990s, before E.K. Industries, the city shipped glass out of state, even though the costs were extreme. Glass is messy to transport, Fisher said. It can't be bundled. Even if ground down, glass is essentially sand, which is already abundant.
Crushed or pulverized
Processing recycled glass starts by loading it into a hopper that feeds glass through a pulverizer or crusher. The machine breaks the glass into small pieces without sharp edges. It's then moved through a machine that clears out debris and sorts by size what remains.
Jeanne Carlson, recycling coordinator for the municipality, said the goal in recycling glass is to avoid moving it far. A heavy product of low value, glass ideally should be collected near where its processed.
"The more you move it, the more you end up with a losing proposition," she said.
According to a 2010 report produced by the municipality in conjunction with the Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership, about 20-30 tons of glass was collected weekly before recycling ended in Anchorage. That's almost 1,500 tons a year, or enough to fill 500 typical dump trucks.
Still, that's only a small fraction of the glass waste in Anchorage. Using national figures, Anchorage could produce about 15,000 tons of glass -- or 5 percent of the city’s overall 301,000 tons of waste that are deposited in the landfill each year. Fisher said that with a new glass recycling program, 10 to 30 percent of the glass used by Anchorage residents is expected to be deposited in community drop offs.
Gary Busse, general manager of Midnight Sun Brewing Company, saw a 27 percent uptick in his growler sales from 2009 to 2010, but doesn’t have any hard numbers proving that residents are buying more half-gallon beer growlers instead of bottles to reduce glass waste. In 2009, the brewery moved to its new "shiny digs" in South Anchorage, Busse said, and overall sales increased.
Anecdotally, Busse said he hears from customers who say their growler increase is due to the lack of recycling options. Last July, in fact, the brewery started canning beer. Aluminum recycling is still available in the city, a factor that played into Midnight Sun's decision to offer cans.
"We definitely recognized that people wanted it," Busse said. "Once Anchorage stopped recycling glass we realized there might be some reluctance to purchase bottles."
Pamela Hatzis started a "take a penny, leave a penny" growler recycling program when she opened the La Bodega growler bar in April. Instead of adding glass to Anchorage landfills by selling their own growlers, Hatzis' decided to ask people to donate the containers they weren't using. Growlers can be forgotten, she said, and people hoping to reduce waste sometimes end up with more containers than they need.
"Good intentions often turn into more glass," she said.
Hatzis, a co-owner, has had a "really positive" response to the program. She often hears from customers concerned about purchasing more glass.
She's also noticed brewers responding to glass recycling concerns. When Hatzis opened La Bodega six years ago, the store carried only one craft beer. Now that number is up to 50.
Broken Tooth Brewing Co., which produces beer for the popular Moose's and Bear Tooth restaurants, announced in February it planned to sell canned beer. Part of the reason: the lack of glass recycling in Anchorage.
Recycled glass: Is it marketable?
Last year, Central Recycling Services received $85,000 from the city to study how to recycle difficult materials like rubber tires and glass. They were the only Anchorage group that received money to study glass recycling, Carlson said.
Whether there will be more grant opportunities in the future is hard to say.
In March, the Anchorage Assembly voted to reduce the recycling surcharge on every ton of garbage deposited at the landfill from $3 to $1.50 starting in April. The city's recycling office is trimming back and Carlson wasn't sure what that would mean for Anchorage in terms of future grants on hard to recycle materials.
"It won't be as big as it used to be," she said. "It's not clear if the grant program will continue."
Also unclear is what the demand for Alaska glass aggregate products will be. Fisher said many construction companies aren't aware of the potential uses -- including fill and back-spill materials that can be used to fill holes created by such construction projects as bridges, buildings, and bike paths.
Fisher, with ALPAR, and Central Recyling are working to market the product to engineers and contractors. Time will tell if they’re effective.
"It really all depends on the success of the program," Fisher said, "and it depends completely on our ability to market it."
Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com