Recycling Glass in Arlington

glass in bin

Why Drop Off Glass?

Arlington County asks residents not to place glass in their blue curbside recycling carts and instead use dedicated, distinctive bins at five conveniently located drop-off sites. The move followed a significant drop in market value and the cost to sort glass from other single-stream materials.

The new system, instituted in 2019, resulted in 5 million tons of glass recycled in less than two years. And recycler now pays the County to haul away the pre-sorted glass.

Funky glass container

  • Buy fewer products in glass containers and more in recyclable metal or even plastic
  • Reuse glass containers for new storage
  • If you need to dispose of glass curbside, use only the black trash cart

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is the County promoting the removal of glass from my blue curbside recycling cart

Glass is one of the heaviest items in Arlington’s residential recycling stream, making up about 22 percent of the total. It has a negative market value in this region because of lack of nearby glass processing facilities and the difficulty with separating it from other recyclables.

What happens to glass that is put in the blue recycling cart?

Glass that is placed in the blue carts will be separated from other recyclables at the Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and disposed of as residue in a landfill.

Why can’t glass that has been put in the blue cart be effectively sorted out at the materials recovery facility?

Glass breaks during the recycling collection process, and also breaks while moving through the MRF, often becoming so small that it falls through the screens that are used to separate materials from one another. This glass, and the glass that makes it to the end of the process, is often contaminated with small scraps of paper, plastics, food waste and other residue, making it unmarketable. Glass can also cross-contaminate processed recyclables and is frequently found inside recovered paper and cardboard bales.

What happens to glass that is disposed in the black trash cart?

The trash collected from Arlington’s black carts is delivered to a waste-to-energy facility in Alexandria where it is combusted and converted to energy. The melted glass is mixed with ash from the combustion process and taken to an ash monofill for final disposal.

What happens to glass that is taken to the recycling drop-off sites?

The County’s five glass drop-off sites offer glass-only dumpsters. Glass deposited in these presorted containers, is now picked up by a recycling firm, which pays Arlington for the material.

Are you going to make more than five locations available to residents?

Although additional sites are unlikely at this point, the County will continue to explore opportunities to add drop-offs.

What about plastic? I thought plastic was bad for the environment.

While glass bottles and jars collected in single-stream programs are now heading to disposal, plastic food and beverage bottles and containers, and plastic bottles and containers for soap, detergent, shampoo, etc., are all very recyclable and have solid end markets. Arlingtonians should still try to limit the use of single-use plastics such as straws and cup lids, Styrofoam cups, and retail bags. To minimize impact on the environment, we should follow the waste hierarchy of reduce, reuse, recycle/compost, waste to energy and landfilling.

Where can I find the cost analysis on glass?

The cost analysis for this decision was based on two data points and reinforced by the facts that glass is not being recycled in the region and that according to the County contract with the processing facility, glass has no market value. The cost to process a ton of recyclables is $72 per ton and the cost to dispose of the same material as trash is $43.16 per ton. The County saves $28.84 for each ton of glass diverted from the recycling stream to the waste stream.

What other changes to the recycling program can we expect?

In addition to removing glass, residents can expect increased education about minimizing contamination in the recycling stream. Commodity markets are demanding cleaner material and material cleanliness starts with what is placed in the blue recycling cart. The County is continuously reviewing opportunities to increase materials that can be recycled from the waste stream as markets and processes become available.

Will adding glass to the trash increase Arlington’s disposal costs? Isn’t it still cheaper to recycle glass?

The cost to process a ton of recyclables [as of 2019] is $72 per ton and the cost to dispose of the same material as trash is $43.16 per ton. The County saves $28.84 for each ton of glass diverted from the recycling stream to the waste stream.

Will the removal of glass impact my Household Solid Waste Rate (HSWR)?

Removing glass will not impact the current HSWR. The savings achieved by removing glass from the recycling stream will help offset the reduced revenues resulting from lower commodity markets for other recyclables. However, the savings from glass will be factored into calculating next year’s HSWR.

Why aren’t all residential and commercial properties removing glass from their recycling carts?

At this time, the County is encouraging residents to place glass in the trash but will not be enforcing the removal of glass through the County Ordinance. The County only provides weekly curbside trash and recycling collection services to all single-family homes, duplexes and some town houses. Those who live in areas where the County does not provide trash and recycling collection services should check with their service provider on what is and is not accepted. Per County Board action and Manager direction, glass is officially removed from the required recycling list in the County Code on Aug. 1, 2019.

Are other jurisdictions removing glass too?

Prince William County in this area has begun to encourage residents to dispose of glass in the trash instead of the recycling bin. Across the country, there are other local governments that have already removed glass from their recycling collection services.

What is the “Glass Waste Management Hierarchy”?

  1. Try to avoid buying food and beverages packaged in glass. Look for products packaged in aluminum, cartons, or recyclable plastics.
  2. Reuse whatever glass if you can (i.e. mason jars).
  3. Keep glass separate from your other recyclables and drop it off at County recycling centers for proper recycling.
  4. Place glass in the trash.

How will the County measure the savings for this effort?

The County conducts quarterly waste sorts of random samples. This sample will give us a snapshot of our relative progress quarter by quarter.

Blue Cart Recycling Tips

  • Place recyclables loose in the blue recycling cart, your own personal container, paper bags or in cardboard boxes. Acceptable items include: paper and cardboard, plastic bottles, jugs and containers, metal cans and aluminum foil and trays. Check out the Where Does It Go Directory for sorting help.
  • Make sure food and beverage containers are empty before placing them in the cart.
  • Do a quick rinse for recyclables that contain a thick residue like peanut butter or spaghetti sauce, or wipe with a paper towel.
  • Keep food-contaminated paper such as napkins and paper towels out of the blue carts . The same goes for pizza boxes that are soaked in grease. Dry and relatively grease-free pizza boxes are acceptable.
  • Look for products that come packaged in easily recyclable materials like aluminum and steel cans, plastic bottles (for soda, water, juice, milk, detergent, shampoo, etc.), and cartons (milk, juice, soups, etc.).

Recycling Right Q&A