With cost of recycling on the rise, Olympia plans to stop curbside collection of glass

Glass recycling in Olympia could soon take more effort.

Olympia, which runs its own garbage and recycling hauling service, wants to stop accepting glass in curbside recycling bins. Instead, residents would need to drop off glass at the city’s collection site off Eastside Street Southeast or at a yet-to-be-determined site on the west side.

The move is linked to China’s recent crackdown on imported recyclables, which decreased the value of materials and made recycling more expensive. In 2017, Olympia spent about $610,000 on residential recycling but earned $457,000 from the resale of materials. This year, it expects to spend about $719,000 but earn only $77,600.

Glass, which makes up about 22 percent of what the city collects, is expensive to transport since it is heavy, and broken bits get mixed up with other materials, making them harder to recycle and less valuable.

Collecting glass at the drop-off sites would save $90,000 to $170,000 a year depending on how much the city takes in, according to Gary Franks, the city’s waste resources director who recommended the change.

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It is not clear when the change could go into effect. Franks stressed the need to reach out to customers.

“We’re in an environment where we’re promoting people using vehicles less, and so one message would be if you’re going to the store, time your glass drop off with going to the store,” Franks said during a presentation Tuesday to the City Council. “But not everybody has a car, and so we’ve been trying to think through that.”

Other options presented included collecting glass in separate curbside containers, which would cost more than what the city spends now, or stopping recycling glass altogether.

Pioneer Recycling Services, which sorts the city’s materials at its facility in Frederickson in Pierce County, had requested a change when it comes to glass. Right now it sends sorted glass to a landfill to cover up waste, but Franks said glass collected separately could be sent to a local concrete recycler to be used as roadbed.

Olympia also is considering no longer accepting poly-coated cartons and frozen food boxes, which are designed to resist moisture and therefore are harder to break down for reuse. These make up less than 1 percent of what Olympia collects.

Council members said they support the changes given the limits of today’s recycling market.

“I don’t see this as being connected to a zero-waste goal. I see this as trying to do the most efficient and inexpensive way to deal with a waste stream,” said council member Clark Gilman, suggesting a better approach would be for consumers to use fewer containers in the first place.

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Abby Spegman joined The Olympian in 2017. She covers the city of Olympia and a little bit of everything else. She previously worked at newspapers in Oregon, New Hampshire and Hawaii.