EUGENE — Tens of thousands of Eugene and Springfield residents routinely rinse and set aside non-deposit wine, juice and other bottles and jars, then put them out for curbside recycling in specially marked boxes.
Recycling crews haul off the glass. But that doesn’t mean the glass ends up being smelted and made into new bottles and jars.
Rather, all of it is trucked to the Coffin Butte landfill near Corvallis, or occasionally to other landfills, where it is dumped, crushed and spread out on landfill roads, or layered to help with landfill drainage.
That doesn’t conform to the ideals held by recycling purists. The theory behind collecting used glass is that glass manufacturers can save big amounts of energy by using waste glass in the glassblowing process, rather than making new glass from scratch from silica. Using waste glass cuts energy costs by a third or more, a good thing for society as a whole, experts say.
But for garbage haulers, it’s often cheaper to send waste glass to landfills for roads or drainage use. And that’s legal under Oregon’s recycling rules.
“We allow it, although honestly we’d like to get rid of that use (in landfills) entirely. It’s a bad image, using something in a landfill,” said Peter Spendelow, a solid waste analyst with the state Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates landfills and recycling. Sending curbside-collected glass to landfills “really doesn’t have any environmental benefit,” Spendelow said.
“If you’re going to have curbside collection for bottles and send them to a landfill (for roads), why not have curbside collection for rocks?” The crux of the problem is that while many residents are eager to recycle, it can be expensive getting certain materials — especially glass — into a condition that manufacturers want.
Under curbside pickup programs in Eugene and Springfield, residents mix different colors of glass — brown, green, clear — into a single pickup box. Sometimes they toss in other waste, too — ceramics, plastics, metal, cardboard.