Saturday, December 12, 2009

City use of pulverized glass on streets raises questions

Lots of people are clearly hopping mad about the glass-in-the-streets story, but a different factor comes to mind for me.

The point of recycling glass, going all the way back to the first new-era mandatory bottle deposits in Michigan in the '70s, was to keep the glass out of the environment and make more new glass with it, since it is so easy to recycle cheaply. It's not waste, it's a resource.

Recall a couple of years ago, when Mr Norwood removed the City glass containers from supermarket parking lots, calling the operation unprofitable? Now we see what should be reasonably valuable materials crushed and spread on our streets. We've come full circle, only where citizens were once the litterers, now it's our government.

The angle I'd have liked to see in the Courier's story isn't who's to blame for this little incident, but rather why a City asset is being systematically wasted in this manner. Has the raw-glass market crashed, leaving municipalities with worthless piles of glass? Have we failed to build the necessary market-to-manufacturer infrastructure to make recycling worthwhile? Are other materials similarly in glut or nearing it? Or are our administrators just unwilling to make it a priority and deal with it? There are many interesting questions of vital public interest to be asked here.

This is from, which tracks prices on recyclables, and this chart covers curbside-gathered materials over the past two years. I dunno much about interpreting these data, but it looks to me like prices track fairly well with the economy overall, and they're up substantially over a year ago. To me that means the City is wasting public assets of increasing value into our environment, not unlike burning a ten-dollar bill to light a cigarette.

I can see the amped-up Hollywood treatment now -- a film about Prescott City government with Heath Ledger as Steve Norwood.


Mia said...

I think it was probably "unprofitable" because the only place to take it was at least as far as Phx, and because glass is so heavy, when gas prices are up, running those huge trucks to transport it becomes $$$. But crushing it and using it for snow melt, or landscaping is a great option. It is pretty and safe tumbled, but you have to have a space, equipment, manpower, and worst of all, willing taxpayers to make the investment. The crushed shards everywhere disturb some of us who have an aversion to broken glass, and nightmares about having to eat it. But I can turn my head if it really is environmentally sound and a sensible solution to waste.

Steven Ayres said...

So it doesn't bother you that the glass, whatever its shape, winds up as unrecoverable environmental waste? Are you imagining what that might look like after a couple of decades of regular practice?

Mia said...

I'm not sure what part of what I said you're referring to. (I'll guess.) I personally don't think we should brush off environmental responsibility because it isn't "profitable". (I think this is where you used the word figuratively and I literally. Sorry for my slow take.) My husband and I looked into starting a curbside recycling program some years ago and at that time someone in the business told me that glass used to be more "profitable," but that that had changed and it wasn't anymore - especially when it is so expensive to transport. (Incidentally, white paper was paying the most.) So that's what was in my head. I wasn't commenting on our moral obligation to reduce or reuse our waste. I don't think you have any idea what kind of an obsessive freak you are talking to actually. So ?#1 - Yes, unbearably. ?#2 The waste? Several times a day and it makes me sick and insane.