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Weight Loss Plan: Aberdeen Cuts Glass Recycling Service

A picture of glass bottles and jars
Creative Commons
Aberdeen no longer accepts glass bottles and jars in its curbside recycling pickup.

One town in Moore County is no longer accepting glass bottles and jars in curbside recycling bins. It's a cost-saving measure amid skyrocketing fees.

Recycling is becoming more expensive pretty much everywhere. But Moore County faced sticker shock this summer when a fire closed the material recovery facility that had its contract. The county tipping fee jumped from $25-per-ton to $100, making recyclables much more expensive to haul than garbage.

"The cost of recycling has gone up by four times, and to try and respond to that cost increase, we're going to try and reduce our weight," said Aberdeen Town Manager Paul Sabiston, adding that anyone who wishes can drop off glass to Moore County convenience centers, which will continue to accept it.

"We're not saying don't recycle glass," Sabiston explained. "We're just saying we're not going to pick it up as part of our program."

Glass is an obvious scapegoat. It's heavy, and breakable. It can be rough on sorting equipment and can contaminate other products if you don't do it right.

Scott Mouw oversees strategy and research for The Recycling Partnership, a coalition of brands and commodities companies working to support recycling initiatives.

"Glass is a huge headache for all of us in the recycling world, but in North Carolina there are so many reasons to make it work," Mouw said.

Unlike many other states, North Carolina has substantial glass recycling infrastructure, including two huge bottle manufacturers that want the glass feedstock from recycled bottles and jars.

"We've got bottling companies like Sierra Nevada or New Belgium or others who are highly interested in having the highest recycled content possible in their bottles," Mouw said.

And glass can be recycled almost endlessly, since it doesn't lose quality the way paper and plastics do. That's another reason to try and keep it out of the landfill.

Wendy Worley runs the Recycling section for the state Department of Environmental Quality. She said Aberdeen's decision to halt glass isn't ideal, but she gets it.

"It's better than nothing and can be successful. Of course, you may not get quite as much participation in that kind of program as you would in a curbside program," Worley said. "The citizen may or may not choose to participate because it's not at their curb. It's not as convenient."

If the finances improve, Aberdeen might revisit glass recycling in its next budget.

Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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