The City of Dubuque’s plan to once again offer glass recycling, via a drop-off site, has been delayed by concerns over confusion among residents and shifts in how it would be executed.
In March, City Council members approved a budget for fiscal year 2020 that included $10,000 for the installation of one drop-off container for glass. Ripple Glass, of Kansas City, Mo., would collect the container when it was full and take the recyclables south at no charge.
Six months later — and two months since the fiscal year started — the city still has no glass receptacle.
Part of the delay is related to city officials reconsidering who should oversee the Dubuque collection site, according to Public Works Director John Klostermann. He said officials now think that Dubuque Metropolitan Area Solid Waste Agency — of which the city is a member — would be the more appropriate body.
“We want to do a partnership with the agency,” Klostermann said.
He plans to propose the shift to DMASWA board members during their meeting next week. If board members back the proposal, an additional delay likely would result as the agency seeks grant money for a container, but the city potentially could save all of the $10,000 budgeted, Klostermann said. A company such as Ripple Glass still would deal with the glass once it’s collected.
City officials supported establishing a glass-recycling site after some residents voiced support of the move during the development of the city’s comprehensive plan and a 2018 survey about solid waste collection. But the move toward glass recycling needs to be handled cautiously, according to city officials.
As City Manager Mike Van Milligen said, when the city dumped glass recycling in 2011, it was for a reason.
“We used to collect it at the curb with other recyclables, but it was (breaking and) contaminating the rest of the recycling stream,” he said. “It turned all of our recycling into trash. That’s not our goal.”
Scott Dittmer, the owner of Dittmer Recycling, of Dubuque, said broken glass mixed in with other recyclables causes both safety and financial problems.
“If that starts getting into the recycling stream, that plays havoc with the machinery,” he said. “It’s not a good product to be mixing in with the other. Once it gets mixed in with everything else, it’s a problem. The trucks crush, and it breaks in the trucks. It breaks on our floor. The least amount of it we can get, the better.”
That is just one of many reasons Dittmer opposes the return to glass recycling. It is also a chief concern for the city and solid waste agency.
Because, as everyone involved emphasized, residents only will be able to drop off glass at the one established site. It will not be allowed in curbside recycling bins.
Officials worry that educating residents about that distinction will be difficult.
“The problem is in how it would get marketed,” Van Milligen said. “... We’re concerned about creating another system that contaminates our recyclables.”
Klostermann said city staff members are discussing the structure of an education campaign to be rolled out alongside the glass drop-off.
Dittmer said people shouldn’t confuse this form of glass recycling with a green enterprise.
“No. 1, I think it doesn’t make environmental sense the way they want to do it — to have people show up, burning fossil fuels, drop off a load just for it to eventually be moved again,” he said. “By the time it gets where it’s going, this glass will be handled over 10 times with a fossil-fuel-burning vehicle. If it doesn’t make environmental sense, then why are we doing it?”
Klostermann acknowledged that establishing a glass drop-off site will not assist the city’s push to reduce its 2003 greenhouse gas emission levels by 50% by 2030. But he said it would reduce the amount of trash going into the landfill, which also would be beneficial.
“When they talk about glass not being the highest priority and its footprint, that’s not what we’re looking at,” he said. “There is a use for glass. It’s a product that can be used over, so why not keep it out of the landfill?”