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Flagstaff residents can pay to have curbside glass recycling

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FLAGSTAFF – Michael Sajn, a forklift operator for the city’s recycling contractor, is happy to see the glass collected at his facility finally being recycled rather than ground up and used as landfill cover.

“It’s a recyclable,” he said. “We’re just trying to do better – not eating up the landfill putting stuff in it.”

While most Arizona cities collect glass along with other recyclables in a mixed system, finding buyers can be difficult. But thanks to an agreement with a Houston-based company Flagstaff’s glass now becomes bottles, insulation and more.

As of January, homeowners can pay $3.55 per month to have glass collected from special bins. They also can continue using glass drop-off sites around town.

The glass is trucked to a Phoenix plant operated by Strategic Materials. The company, which also works with Phoenix and other Valley cities, sells most of it to a Mexico firm that makes bottles.

Strategic Materials takes Flagstaff’s glass without paying or charging the city anything.

“We live in this absolutely gorgeous place, and it seems really absurd to take up more room with landfills,” said McKenzie Jones, Flagstaff’s community sustainability specialist. “If you go out to our landfill, it’s gorgeous. It has this view of the Peaks, it’s just this really wonderful space. If you go out there you could think there’s just no reason to take up more room than we need to.”

Most of the glass collected in Flagstaff had been crushed and combined it with paper sludge and wood chips as landfill cover to reduce blowing trash and scavenging insects and rodents.

Jones said city residents had wanted glass recycling for a long time before Strategic Materials came along.

“We don’t really change what we’re recycling that often,” she said. “To have this be a new opportunity that’s relatively close – a lot of recycling happens internationally, with stuff going to China – to have this going just to Mexico or to Phoenix is actually pretty exciting.”

The recycling program in Flagstaff is run by a private contractor, Norton Environmental. The city’s trucks empty residents’ bins, bringing the contents to the recycling facility where paper, cardboard, plastics and metal are sorted and compacted into bales to be sold on the commodities market.

Strategic Materials cleans the glass and sorts it by color using optical sensors.

Paul Faherty, vice president of the company’s western division, said beverage manufacturers can recycle the same glass into new beer or soda bottles again and again instead of watching it go into landfills.

“Before we came to town, cities were mostly landfilling this,” he said. “There’s still some material that’s going into landfills.”

Faherty said the desert Southwest lends itself to glass recycling because the hot, dry weather keeps glass fragments from sticking together.

“Moisture is not our friend,” he said.

Terry Gellenbeck, a solid-waste analyst with the Phoenix Public Works Department, said that glass recycling doesn’t make much money for his city.

“It’s the avoided cost of having to take the heavy stuff out to the landfill,” he said. “That’s the real economic reason for this.”

Flagstaff’s Jones said that proximity helps limit the energy cost of transporting glass.

“It’s great to have this opportunity to recycle glass relatively close to home,” Jones said. “So people should take advantage of it.”