Starting this week, the City of Frankfort will finally be able to recycle glass again.
Bottles, jars and jugs, along with their caps, will be accepted in curbside recycling bins throughout the city. All colors of glass will be accepted. Glass that will not be accepted is cut glass, glass bakeware, mirrors, porcelain and ceramics, stemware, window glass, light bulbs, and televisions.
Frankfort sends recyclables to Lexington’s Recycle Center, which will be closed until late March or early April to install new machinery to process “clean” paper. In the meantime, any recycling they receive will be sent to Rumpke’s Recycle Center in Cincinnati, with whom they have a partnership.
Glass stopped being accepted in curbside recycling bins in spring of 2019. Since then, the only way to dispose of glass was to throw it in the trash. While Franklin County started accepting glass in their curbside bins in October, the city decided to wait.
Byron Roberts, Frankfort’s Superintendent of Solid Waste, told The State Journal the decision to wait was made because of multiple factors, such as waiting for necessary equipment.
“There were several factors being considered at the same time. Equipment upgrades and purchases (requiring commission approval and budget amendment) and the possibility of switching recycle material processors. The City wanted to make any and all changes at one time,” he said.
Frankfort and Franklin County had stopped collecting glass before. According to an article from The State Journal, both the city and county had ceased glass recycling in July 2000, but resumed it in April 2004.
More recently, alongside glass, paper recycling was ceased. However, in early March 2020, paper collection bins were put at City of Frankfort’s Division of Solid Waste’s Recycle Center and between the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Franklin County Fire Department off River Bend Road. Roberts said the city hopes to allow paper back into curbside bins in the spring or summer.
Angela Poe, who spoke with the newspaper on behalf of the Lexington Recycle Center, said, “Frankfort is an original member from when the recycling center began taking affiliate material in 1993,” while Roberts said they started sending recyclable material to Lexington in 2005.
Up until recently, much of what Americans recycled got sent to China to be processed. According to an article from NPR, the United States sent more than 410,000 U.S. tons to China in 2017. But that same year, China announced it would ban imports of solid waste, which included recyclable plastics and metal. As a result, the recyclable materials sometimes end up in landfills or incinerated.
Poe said the Lexington Recycle Center sells most of its material to companies in North America. They will send the recycling center quotes for how much they will pay, and sometimes purchase multiple types of materials.
“The Recycling Center sells materials to various vendors throughout the U.S. and two vendors in Canada. Vendors send us quotes for their market pricing at the beginning of the month and loads are sold based on who is offering the highest price," she added. “Often one vendor may purchase three to four different types of materials, but there are some months where each material is sold to its own specific vendor.”
Poe went on to say the price set by the vendors is influenced by market rates, which are based on, “values published by the Paper and Pulp Index (PPI), the London Metal Market Exchange as well as various Plastics Publications.”
The State Journal was provided a list of some of the recycling center’s markets. PETE, plastic material used to make soda and water bottles, is sent to vendors in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Richmond, Indiana, and gets used in the production of carpeting and more bottles. Aluminum cans get sent to Berea and Bowling Green and get used to make aluminum sheets for more aluminum cans.
Certain factors can affect whether or not some materials can be recycled. One factor is whether or not there are facilities nearby that can process the material. An article from 2019 in Chemical & Engineering News gave the example of Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, Missouri. The article states because there was no facility that could process recycled glass, “millions of its (Boulevard Brewing’s) empty beer bottles were ending up in landfills.” As a result, Boulevard Brewing helped start a company that processes glass and sells it to a local fiberglass plant and a glass bottle manufacturer in Oklahoma, who Boulevard buys their bottles from.
In addition to an area's proximity to recycling and processing facilities, Poe said the volume and the ability of the recycling center to separate materials either mechanically or manually play crucial roles in whether materials can be recycled.
Separating materials is part of what makes recycling so difficult. The recycling center has invested $4.2 million in the machinery being installed in order to help make it easier to separate other materials from paper.
However, contamination between recyclable materials still remains a problem. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Division of Waste Management said in their annual report for 2020, “Residential glass recycling remains problematic due to single stream and curbside collection that often results in cross contamination of materials which greatly diminishes its market value.”
Because of the loss of market value, contaminated recyclables are put in the landfill. According to Roberts, the city is seeing, “roughly 15%-18% curbside contamination rate, which that needs to be much lower.”
He acknowledged contamination is a constant concern, not only with with broken glass, but with non-recyclable materials as well. Roberts said recycling centers like the one in Lexington do the best they can separating the materials.
“Broken glass will always be a contamination concern. With the single stream system there is not a way to prevent it and be cost effective in offering it for curbside recycling services. The sorting system at the Lexington Facility separates as much broken glass from other materials as possible,” he explained.
The best thing the public can do to help mitigate contamination is to not put in items that cannot be recycled. This includes the glass items mentioned earlier, but also items like greasy pizza boxes, paper coffee cups and plastic bags. According to Poe, not only do these contaminate the recyclables, “unwanted materials at the Recycle Center damages equipment and puts employees at risk.”
To make sure the correct materials are being recycled, Frankfort residents can visit the city’s website, where they can find materials further explaining what to recycle and what to throw away.