Recycling leaders look to expand glass markets in Minnesota

A crate full of glass bottles
Empty glass bottles are classified to recycle in Guatemala City. The Recycling Association of Minnesota is hosting a gathering Thursday, to encourage state and local government officials and the companies that haul, sort, process and manufacture products using glass to expand recycling for the material.
Johan Ordonez | AFP via Getty Images 2017

Recycling leaders and state officials hope a summit Thursday about the future of glass recycling in the state will spark some new ideas on how to boost recovery rates and expand the industry.

The Recycling Association of Minnesota is hosting the gathering, which includes state and local government officials and the companies that haul, sort, process and manufacture products using glass.

“[Glass is] one of the most sustainable commodities, and it can be endlessly reused, as long as we're recycling it into more glass,” said Brita Sailer, executive director of the Recycling Association of Minnesota. “It just has some wonderful possibilities.”

But overall, recycling markets have suffered in the past few years, and glass isn’t immune.

One example of that is in west-central Minnesota, where the Redwood-Renville Regional Solid Waste Authority stopped accepting glass for recycling last November as it struggled to find markets for the product. But the organization has since agreed to work with a contractor, Willmar-based West Central Sanitation, and will again collect glass starting in January.

And unlike plastic, glass is heavy to transport, and broken glass mixed with other recyclables can be a problem for some recycling plants, Sailer said.

Despite the weight, some companies are moving glass from hundreds of miles away to the Twin Cities area to be processed and recycled. Products that use recycled glass include containers, insulation and fiberglass.

The Strategic Materials company recycles about 11,000 tons of glass each month, said Dan VanKorn, the company’s Midwest sourcing manager. He said the glass comes from all over Minnesota -- and even as far away as Sioux Falls, S.D. The company hopes Thursday’s summit will include a discussion about how glass from distant locales could make its way to Minnesota to support the state’s glass recycling industry.

“I think if we take a creative look at that, there may be some solutions on the horizon,” VanKorn said.

VanKorn said the processed glass Strategic Materials produces is then sold to companies that make bottles, fiberglass and other products. Some of the companies that make those products like to tell their customers what percentage of the product came from recycled materials, he said.

About a third of glass gets recycled nationwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In contrast, Hennepin County reported an 86 percent recovery rate for glass in a 2016 report.