Credit: NWA Democrat-Gazette/FILE PHOTOThe city of Fayetteville is considering changes to its recycling program.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Glass can help pay for a city's recycling program or hobble it permanently depending on how the city handles the brittle material, representatives of the company processing Fayetteville's glass recycling told residents Monday.
Around 50 people gathered Monday evening in the downtown Chancellor Hotel for a presentation from Kansas City, Mo.-based Ripple Glass on how a city should recycle its glass jars and bottles. Fayetteville is in the middle of a 90-day pilot program that switches its curbside-sorting recycling program with a single-stream model letting residents mix all recyclables together in their curbside carts.
The program covers about 1,000 households in the city's southeast and two apartment complexes, and it accepts glass along with cardboard, paper, plastics and cans. But glass breaks easily, which in turn makes it difficult and costly to separate from everything else, said Mike Utz, Ripple Glass's founder.
"This is the fundamental problem of the single-stream system -- the extra handling of glass," Utz said. As a result, glass going in recycling bins might not end up recycled: Around 60 percent of it's lost in single-stream systems, he said, citing a 2009 report from the nonprofit Container Recycling Institute in California.
Splitting glass from the rest of the recyclables allows almost all of it to be reused, said Michelle Goth, Ripple's regional business manager. She urged Fayetteville to consider a similar system.
Fayetteville recycled more than 6,000 tons of material last year, including about 1,300 to Ripple, according to the city's year-end report. With composting and other measures, the city diverts about 20 percent of its waste from the landfill.
The City Council set a goal three years ago to quadruple that rate to 80 percent by 2025. It has paid about $300,000 for Florida-based Kessler Consulting to put together a plan reach that goal, an effort that includes the pilot programs.
City officials in the past few months have stressed the pilots are simply to test out the ideas; the data that comes from them will inform an eventual council vote on whether to make any city-wide changes.
"Nothing has been decided," Brian Pugh, the city's waste reduction coordinator, said before the meeting.
The program has been promising so far, doubling the amount of recyclable material collected from 2 tons a week to 4 tons. The proportion of collection that can't be recycled for any reason has also gone up from less than 1 percent to around 9 percent, Pugh said. More is being recycled even with the increase.
Contamination with broken glass or other material is a common problem with single-stream systems around the country. Springdale and Bentonville, for example, see contamination around 8 percent, according to their curbside pickup companies; Pulaski County, which also offers single-stream, sees around 40 percent.
That's why Louise Mann, a retired teacher and recycling advocate who supports Fayetteville's curbside-sort and drop-off system, arranged Monday's meeting. She said Monday other material industries have complaints much like Ripple's, and she plans to hold similar meetings with other companies.
"The liquids drip, the paper gets stuck," Mann said of single-stream systems' failings.
Pugh acknowledged glass can be a problem within a recycling system; in the pilots, Harmon Recycling is hand-sorting the material to avoid the issue. But technology in recent years has become better at separating out nearly all of the glass, though it's expensive.