Back in August, Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed the NYSDEC to hold three stakeholder meetings to discuss new actions and initiatives that can be taken to improve recycling conditions in response to global markets. During the second meeting, the issue of what should be done with virtually unrecyclable glass was discussed, determining an expansion of glass bottles in the Returnable Container Act.
A subsequent meeting/public hearing, postponed from Nov. 16, will be held by the New York State Assembly on Jan. 23 to discuss recycling.
According to Assemb. Dean Murray (R,C,I-East Patchogue), glass — more specifically, dirty glass — has posed recycling problems with virtually no market for it. During the upcoming meeting, he said the Assembly is slated to discuss whether or not to expand glass bottle deposits to items such as wine bottles.
“I actually think this is an opportunity for entrepreneurs within in the industry to step up,” Murray said, hoping someone will step up to the plate to find a way to reuse glass. “It’s a great opportunity right here on Long Island. In a lot of ways, glass can still be used,” he added, referencing the ability to utilize glass in asphalt and in sand. “It could be an opportunity to turn a negative into a positive,” he added.
As of now, all glass and plastic deposits are accepted and returned under the NYS Bottle Bill. Bottles accepted for return include carbonated soft drinks, soda water, beer, mineral water, and water. Bottles not accepted include milk products, wine and liquors, hard ciders, tea, sports drinks, juice and drink boxes.
All deposits must be obtained within the state of New York. Bottles and cans bought in another state cannot be returned for a refund because no deposit was originally paid in New York.
According to NYS, the bill, enacted in June 1982 with amendments made through 2009, allows collectors to deposit each bottle for a 5-cent return from each distributor on the beverage containers. Retailers then pay the distributor for the deposit and consumers pay the dealers the deposit for each container purchased. Retailers and redemption centers are reimbursed the deposit plus a 3.5-cent handling fee by the distributors.
According to the NYSDEC, all deposit initiators of the beverages are responsible for picking up the empty beverage containers, whether it is done directly in-house or by a third-party pickup service. At that point, the containers become the property of the deposit initiator and they are then responsible to market it for recycling.
“The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation does not track where individual deposit initiators send empty beverage containers for recycling, and only certain facilities operated by the third-party pickup service report to the DEC through annual reporting,” said a NYSDEC spokesperson. “Bottle bill material is often sorted by color and is a cleaner stream of recyclables than what is collected through a curbside recycling collection program. We checked with three of the larger third-party pickup services about glass recycling, and two indicated that they are not having problems marketing their bottle bill glass. The third-party service provider indicated that market conditions have worsened, so that where they were previously being paid for glass, they are currently not receiving revenue and may have to eventually pay a recycler to accept their glass.”
Most clean, color-sorted glass, according to the NYSDEC, is being sent to glass recyclers to be turned into new glass containers. Glass that isn’t being used to produce new glass containers is typically used in fiberglass or building and highway aggregate or drainage material.
Locally, Bellport Cold Beer & Soda owner Dave Schultzer said his business is still collecting glass at their bottle deposit machines provided by Envipco, with no interruption in service. Basically, residents can deposit bottles for a 5-cent return; the bottles are then crushed and collected weekly by the recycling company.
“Because there is no more curbside pickup, we could either see redemptions go up for us or decline,” said Schultzer, having not yet seen a change.
According to Environmental Resource Recycling Inc., a division of Clare Rose located in East Yaphank, the company has been collecting glass with no problems moving materials. However, glass has become virtually worthless, at expense to the company required to recycle it under the NY State Bottle Bill.
Karen Densing, president of ERRI, explained the process. ERRI collects bottles from various sellers including Bellport Beer and local grocery stores. At that point, the glass is brought to their facility, crushed and sold, basically unprofitable with a very slim margin. The cost of operating the recycling facility incurs expenses such as hiring employees to operate the machines and equipment.
Lisa Rose, vice president of Clare Rose, explained that when bottles are returned to ERRI, Clare Rose returns the 5-cent deposit to the retailer plus an additional 3.5 cents for a handling fee required by law. At one point, deposit initiators such as Clare Rose were able to use the unredeemed deposits to cover the costs of recycling and the handling fee. However, she said, that is no longer the case. The state now takes 80 percent of the unredeemed deposits.
According to a NYSDEC spokesperson, since the bottle bill was amended in 2009, four cents of each unredeemed nickel now goes to New York State. Those collected funds, according to the DEC, total over $884 million; most goes to the General Fund and $15 million is dedicated each year to the Environmental Protection Fund.
The Bottle Bill captures more than five billion beverage containers each year, equaling almost 250,000 tons of plastic, glass and aluminum. According to the spokesperson, the redemption rate of deposit containers continues to hover around 65 percent, well above the recycling rate for most other packaging and products, which average between 20 and 40 percent.
“New York State’s Returnable Container Act has been one of the most efficient and successful recycling programs in the state,” said the spokesperson. “These beverage containers are no longer littering our roads or our waterways and are recycled into new packaging and products.”
According to the DEC, due to the volatility in changing recycling trends, the DEC, instructed by Gov. Cuomo, will be making both short- and long-term solutions. Meetings have already been held focused on expanding outreach and education of materials management to reduce waste and enhance the cleanliness of the process.
Three additional meetings have been scheduled for December and January to specifically address glass recycling and alternative uses for the mixed materials, such as construction aggregate.
“The State of New York encourages all communities to continue recycling and to contact DEC if they are experiencing difficulties adapting to changes in the global recycling market,” wrote a spokesperson. “DEC will continue to work with stakeholders to develop solutions that help to improve recycling.
All New Yorkers can do their part to reduce contamination in our recycling supply chain by following our tips to recycle right.”
Glass in Brookhaven Town
The Town of Brookhaven is currently combating the glass issue by no longer accepting it at the curb. Instead, glass can be dropped off at a number of satellite locations including the Holtsville Ecology Site and the Brookhaven Town Landfill. Both Patchogue and Bellport villages operate under the same recycling procedures through an intermunicipal agreement with the town.
Glass that is dropped off will not be sold off as a commodity but rather reused within the municipality as cover and ventilation material in the landfill, which is expected to close sometime in the next five or six years and will be about 75 percent capped by the end of year.
The collected glass, according to Christopher Andrade, commissioner of the Department of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management, is used to cap and ventilate the landfill by mixing it with sand, also creating a minimal cost savings when purchasing sand.
The town, he said, is also currently seeking a sustainable market for glass separated by color. However, if found, the town would still not accept glass at the curb due to its ability to contaminate other recyclable commodities and ruin equipment.
“It’s something we have been trying to recycle for 25 years curbside with no success,” Andrade said, stating that those who are unable to drop off glass at the provided locations are instructed to simply throw away the product. “It’s very difficult to find sustainable markets. This is the best option we have.”