When it comes to building a circular economy through recycling, nothing beats glass for endurance. That vessel for your spaghetti sauce or craft brew looks pristine and pure, and it is. But it likely has had many prior lives, holding some other product and making it look equally good. Glass is infinitely recyclable, and a given container can go from the recycling cart to the processing facility to the manufacturer and back to the store shelf in as little as 30 days.
In Ohio, glass recycling plays a growing part in the economy. O-I Glass, with headquarters in Perrysburg and a manufacturing facility in the historical glass-manufacturing center of Zanesville, has about 1,000 employees in Ohio. Worldwide, the company has 69 plants and about 24,000 employees with net sales of $6.9 billion in 2022. The Zanesville plant makes clear bottles for fine spirits. In Milan, another company with a global footprint, Johns Manville, uses recycled glass to produce fiberglass insulation.
In Dayton, Rumpke Waste and Recycling operates the state’s only glass recycling facility, crushing and processing 5,000 tons of glass per month to be used by any number of Ohio and other companies making glass products. About two-thirds goes to fiberglass makers and the rest to the container industry.
The glass facility gives Rumpke a key role in the industry, by increasing overall glass processing capacity. The company’s 2004 decision to invest in the facility was critical, because while the demand for recycled glass is robust, the actual recycling presents some challenges. First, inconsistent state policies on glass collection create uncertainty and hamper consumer participation. Second, glass is heavy and thus relatively expensive to transport.
While these challenges can be overcome, misconceptions have led some communities across the U.S. in the past decade to stop accepting glass in their recycling programs. That’s typically followed by a public outcry; neither manufacturers nor consumers want their glass to go to landfills.
America needs more glass to recycle, and another major investment announced by Rumpke in February will make a difference. A new processing facility on Joyce Avenue will increase the company’s processing capacity from 150,000 tons of materials per year to 250,000. State-of-the-art technology, including artificial intelligence, ballistic separators and optical scanners, will enable the best possible separation and recovery of materials. The system is designed to be adaptable as new technologies and types of recyclables emerge.
All of that bodes well for the future of glass recycling, but success also depends on the willingness of consumers to put that glass into the recycling bin rather than the trash can. In Franklin County, households currently capture and recycle about 50% of the glass they use, but maybe by working together can boost that number. Check out SWACO’s Recycle Right program, which offers easy tips to understand what is and is not recyclable, and how you can support Ohio's circular economy.