No More Curbside Pickup for Glass in Northern Virginia

Residents will have to take their glass bottles and jars to a purple bin.

On Oct. 1, Fairfax County announced it will no longer accept glass bottles and jars in curbside recycling bins.

The county decided to make the announcement after consulting with private recycling sorting centers and Covanta Fairfax, Inc., which operates the waste-to-energy plant. With the elimination of glass jars and containers from its single-stream curbside program, the county provided options for glass containers.

“Residents should reuse glass containers or bring them to purple, glass-only recycling containers located throughout the region. If this is not possible, glass should be placed in the trash,” said Fairfax County in its post.

Glass items not accepted included lamps, light bulbs, ceramics, porcelain, mirrors, windows and sheet glass.

Glass collected from the purple containers will be delivered to the only glass processing plant in the area, the I-95 landfill complex in Lorton.

For years, most glass has passed through the recycling process as residue, or waste. Some of the glass is applied as landfill cover, an approved use by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, but most of it is simply landfilled with other unrecyclable waste.

Broken glass should be packaged into a rigid container, labeled and set out with trash for disposal. Intact glass windows, sliding doors, glass sheets and mirrors can be taken to the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex for disposal.

The county forewarned Feb. 15, 2019 that it was encountering many problems with glass in its single-stream recycling. When glass comingled with other materials in the County's single-stream recycling program, it often broke during truck collection and transport to material recovery centers. The broken glass mixed with other more valuable recycled items such as cardboard and metals and contaminated them, lowering their scrap value and making them more challenging to sell in the marketplace.

Compounding the problem, approximately two years ago, China, the largest consumer for recycled materials, imposed stricter import standards on the quality of recycled content it accepted. Also, the additional heavy weight of broken glass when intermixed with other recyclables presented extra costs when transporting the mixed materials. The broken, abrasive glass also damaged machinery.

Ten other states have created container deposit laws or so-called “bottle bills.” Under a bottle bill system, when you purchase a beverage container, you pay an additional deposit amount (usually 5 or 10 cents per container), which is added to the cost of the product. Once the product has been consumed, you take the empty container to a redemption center where you receive your deposit back.

According to Fairfax County, glass processed in Lorton is pulverized. It has been tested and reused in place of quarried gravel as bedding and fill in construction projects, such as the Flatlick Branch sanitary sewer replacement project. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqXC_rqQWQ8.

For container glass, place it in the trash where it will go to the landfill with other unrecyclable waste, much like what is currently happening with contaminated recyclable materials in the county. According to "Fairfax County Government Public Works, Shatter the Glass Ceiling – Recycle Glass @ I-95:

"For years, most glass has passed through the recycling process as residue, or waste. Some of the glass is applied as landfill cover, an approved use by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, but most of it is simply landfilled with other unrecyclable waste.”

“If the glass is broken,” the county stated, “Carefully package into a rigid container. Label the package "GLASS" and set out with your trash for disposal… Intact glass windows, sliding doors, glass sheets and mirrors can be taken to the I-66 Transfer Station and I-95 Landfill Complex for disposal.”

The county forewarned Feb. 15, 2019, in a Public Works and Environmental Services release, that it was encountering many problems with glass in its single-stream recycling. Challenges were not unique to the county but echoed nationwide. Contamination at that time was of the utmost concern. When glass comingled with other materials in the County's single-stream recycling program, it broke during truck collection and transport to material recovery centers or MRCs. The broken glass mixed with other more valuable recycled items such as cardboard and metals and contaminated them, lowering their scrap value and making them more challenging to sell in the marketplace.

Virginia Recycles.org released, on its site, the fact sheet "Container Glass Recycling in Virginia," by Northern Virginia Regional Commission and Northern Virginia Waste Management Board. The sheet described how other parts of the country recycle glass and multiple options to improve glass recycling in Virginia. Among options names were Deposit and Extended Producer Responsibility laws, recycling grant programs, and removal of glass containers from curbside and drop-off recycling programs with establishment of glass-only drop-off and collection programs which Fairfax instituted.

Northern Virginia's Glass Recovery Program – Locations of Purple Glass Only Drop-Off Bins in Northern Virginia Partners:

Fairfax County

I-66 Transfer Station

Fairfax County Recycling and Disposal Center

Mount Vernon District Governmental Center

Springfield District Governmental Center

Mason District Governmental Center

Sully District Governmental Center

Providence Community Center

Franconia Governmental Center

Fairfax County Government Center – Lot B

Reston South Park and Ride

Dolley Madison Library

City of Alexandria

South Royal Street & Jones Point Drive

4251 Eisenhower Ave

3224 Colvin St

Tower Court & South Whiting Street

Arlington County

2800 S Taylor St

Quincy Park

Aurora Hills Recreation Center

Cherrydale Branch Library

Lee Community Center

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