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Published: Tuesday, 10/20/2009

Few plants want old glass ingredients


CHEYENNE, Wyo. - After working out, Amy Mahaffy dropped off a half-dozen glass jars in a city recycling container.

The containers, however, won't be recycled any time soon. Their destination: A mound of glass at the city landfill, a growing monument to the difficulty many communities face in finding a market for a commodity that's too cheap for its own good.

"We are stockpiling it in a desperate search for a market," landfill foreman Monty Landers said.

The city of Cheyenne hasn't recycled the glass it collects - 9 tons a week - for years.

The economics of glass recycling have been marginal for some time. Nationwide, about 25 percent of glass containers are recycled. That's compared to 31 percent of plastic containers, 45 percent of aluminum cans, and 63 percent of steel cans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Glass ought to be the perfect commodity to recycle. It can be recycled an infinite number of times. Melting one glass bottle and making another is neither complicated nor costly.

The challenge is that the main ingredient in glass, sand, is plentiful and cheap - often cheaper than cullet, which is glass that has been prepared for recycling.

Used glass must be sorted by color and cleaned before it can be crushed into cullet that is suitable for new containers. That contributes to much of the cost of recycling glass, said Joe Cattaneo, president of the Glass Packaging Institute in Alexandria, Va.

Another cost is transportation. The farther away a community is from glass processors and container manufacturers, the more expensive it is to recycle it.

One of the western region's largest glass recyclers, an Owens-Illinois Inc. bottling manufacturing plant, is in Windsor, Colo. But it gets most of its cullet not from Wyoming or even Colorado, but from the 11 states with bottle deposit laws, company spokesman Stephanie Johnston said.

Bottles returned for 5-cent or 10-cent deposits are kept sorted by color and usually haven't been mixed with other recyclable materials or trash, and are thus free of paper, plastic, metal, and other contaminants.

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