By Hyonhee Shin
Oct. 17, 2009
LANSING, Mich. — After a fine dinner with a glass of wine or beer, where do the green bottles go?
The answer is troubling for many environmentally conscious consumers.
Michigan has a long record of recycling, and glass is one of the most recycled materials, but not green glass. Since the 1976 beverage deposit law — the Bottle Bill — concern has been growing about the scope of glass recycling.
“It’s a problem,” says Dave Nyberg, government and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC). “We are trying to balance between a focus on the deposit law and a focus on statewide recycling.”
Today, Michigan has one of the highest glass container recycling rates in the country — 97.2 percent of beverage containers in 2007. But, Michigan needs to step up, says Brian Vickers, government affairs coordinator of the Glass Packaging Institute, a Washington-based trade association representing glass container manufacturers.
“To a large extent, Michigan glass recycling does depend on the deposit law,” says Vickers. “Bar and restaurant recycling programs — for those establishments who do not already recycle their containers — along with source-separated collection programs for residents and neighborhoods may increase the rate even further.”
Most recycling programs collect only clear and brown glass because of lack of market demand for colored glass, says Bill Gurn, chair of the Michigan Recycling Coalition.
“We need to generate markets,” he says. “There is a market for clear and brown glass, but there are only a few opportunities for colored glass through private businesses.”
The color analysis
Glass comes in a variety of colors. Each has a specific use, according to Earth911, an independent recycling organization in Phoenix, Ariz., which monitors state and local government in all 50 states.
Clear glass is transparent, and typically used for pasta sauces and some beer and liquor bottles. Brown glass is produced by adding nickel, sulfur and carbon, and is most frequently used for beer bottles to protect beer from light, keeping its fresh taste.
Green glass contains more shades than any other color, due to metals like iron, chromium or copper. It also helps shield the contents from light, which explains why it’s most commonly used for wine bottles.
East Lansing resident Nicole Dunn comes to the drop-off recycling site run by city’s Public Works Department once or twice a month, but there’s no bin for her wine bottles.
“We had a whole bunch of green bottles one time, so we came here and asked a worker. He said, ‘You can go online and advertise that you have green bottles and maybe you can do earth projects with them,’” says Dunn, which makes her wonder why manufacturers make green glass if they can’t reuse it.
Packaging Professor Susan Selke at Michigan State University says the market for recycled glass is extremely limited, particularly for green glass. “Production of green glass in the U.S. is much smaller than production of clear or brown glass,” she says. “Therefore, it is much less likely that there will be an appropriate recycling facility within an economical transport distance for green glass.”
Lucy Doroshko, a recycling specialist at the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, says most green glass containers come from out-of-state, which causes supply-demand imbalance. “Heineken, Molson, Grolsch beers, and Californian, European, Australian and New Zealand wines — we consume far more green glass products than what we produce here,” she says.
“Unless Michigan’s wine industry expands dramatically, it’s unlikely that the majority of green glass will be recycled back into container glass,” says Doroshko.
And Matt Flechter, recycling and composting coordinator at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), says colored glass is inherently not as adaptable as clear glass, which saves energy because of a comparatively low melting temperature.
Ways to expand green glass recycling
A 2004 law that prohibits landfilling of green glass deposit containers required the DEQ to provide a report that addresses problems of green glass recycling.
The DEQ Green Glass Task Force suggested methods to expand green glass recycling, including market development through loans and grants, tax incentives for manufacturers and extending the deposit law to additional green glass containers.
Selke says “It’s quite possible to recycle green glass. In fact, a number of years ago, at least one glass plant ran on 100 percent recycled content for a period of several days.”
Amy Spray, a resource policy specialist for the MUCC, says local and federal government funding is important to enhance recycling programs.
“In the 1970s, aluminum was the most convenient material to make products, and plastic wasn’t even developed at that time,” she says. “But we made plastic the most profitable out of the recycling program. That’s why we need to promote funding.”
Hyonhee Shin reports for Capital News Service
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.