Why glass is recycled separately in Park City

SUMMIT COUNTY, Utah — Visitors and new Park City transplants are often vexed when they learn that throwing glass in with other recyclables is a no-no. Recycle Utah, Park City Municipal, local businesses and residents team up with Momentum Recycling in Salt Lake City to take care of glass recycling needs. But why does glass need to be recycled separately?

Glass is heavy and fragile. When glass is included in general recycling, it breaks and contaminates plastics, cardboard, and other materials, compromising recapture rates. Glass recycled on its own increases capture rates for glass and other recyclables.

“By source separating glass and really with any recyclable materials, the value of those goes up and the capture rate of those materials increases,” said Jason Utgaard, Momentum Recycling’s general manager. The capture rate is the weight of one material without contaminants divided by the overall recycling stream.

Contamination leads to recyclables ending up as trash in a landfill. To avoid contaminants in recyclables, it’s helpful to rinse food out of glass or plastic containers, don’t seal up recyclables in a plastic garbage bag (leave them loose or in a brown paper bag), and if you’re not sure if something is recyclable reach out to or visit Recycle Utah, where knowledgable staff or volunteer call help.

“If you’re going to recycle anything, recycle glass; that’s going to have the biggest impact on Utah’s local industry. I always say if you have all your recyclables spread out on the table, and you have to pick one that will most benefit Utah, cardboard, paper, aluminum, plastic, whatever, glass is what you should pick up every time.”

When glass is thrown away with general waste, its weight adds to landfill tipping fees which grow costlier as landfills reach capacity, costing businesses and municipalities.

“Glass is a huge cost for [Recycle Utah]; they do not make any money off of glass; they spend 1,000s of dollars every month on it,” Utgaard said. “I know that for a fact because they have to report to us how much they are spending on transportation. We give them an amount per ton of brown glass and an amount per ton of non-brown glass to help offset those transportation costs.”

In 2021, Recycle Utah collected 771 tons of glass from residents and visitors, which all went to Momentum.

“On behalf of Recycle Utah, we always know where all of our products [go],” said Addison Marr, Recycle Utah’s communications and development director. “That is something we very much stay true to and we want to be transparent about because the recycling world can be messy. We very much value honesty and transparency and, frankly, education about where recycled materials are going and what they’re being turned into.”

Glass recycled through Momentum is made into cullet, which is basically glass dust, a super fine particle. Cullet is then made into more glass, fiberglass, or used as sandblasting material. Watch the full process below.

Businesses can sign up for a glass pick-up program with services starting at $13 per month. According to Brittani White, Momentum Recycling account manager, there are a total of 248 liquor license holders in Park City.

“Of those 248 [liquor] license holders, 84 businesses recycle their glass, that we are aware of,” White said.

If the remaining 66% of businesses don’t take their own glass to Recycle Utah or Momentum, that’s a lot of glass heading into the landfills and a lot of fees.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported, according to 2018 data, over 60% of glass gets put into landfills; only a quarter of glass gets recycled, and 13% of glass is combusted with recovered energy. Glass takes 1 million years to break down in a landfill. The good news is it is infinitely recyclable.

Momentum Recycling is surveying businesses on Main Street to help Park City achieve its Net Zero 2030 goal. According to Utgaard, Main Street’s businesses are the largest waste driver.

“Zero waste means 80% landfill diversion will qualify as zero waste. We are contracted by [Park City Municipal] to do all the outreach, education, and reporting on all of the different streams that are coming out of the Historic Main Street area.”

Many Parkites take glass to Recycle Utah after a pile builds up in their garages or kitchens, which is later transported to Momentum Recycling. Since January 2019, Momentum has offered monthly at-home glass pick-ups; customers pay $15 for the glass bin and a $12 monthly payment. Members can cancel or hold service at any time.

Currently, Momentum serves over 500 residential customers in Park City. Those interested in joining can sign up and waive the $15 activation/bin fee by using code TOWNLIFT.* Code expires March 1.

“What we’re most interested in is getting a higher capture rate,” said Utagaard. “We need to keep educating people. I think what Recycle Utah does is absolutely phenomenal, and there should be 100 of those, just in Utah.”

Momentum is currently the only glass recycler in about 350 miles. It often receives glass from Jackson, Wyoming, to Grand Junction, Colorado.

*TownLift is not receiving any proceeds from this offer to readers.

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