Yesterday while listening to the Rutherford show, I was reminded of one of our many examples of Calgary City Hall putting the cart before the horse in their pursuit of high density city where people ride bikes to work and recycle damn near everything. What I am on about today is glass.
While the city of Calgary is asking us to spend time and water washing and separating our glass products so that they can be put into our blue bins for recycling, they really have utterly no idea what to do with the glass once they get it. Glass is really a generally unrealistic product to recycle at this time. It is hard to work with and clean and there is no cost effective use for the end product. Glass is relatively cheap to produce new and used glass is simply too impure and expensive to try and form into new glass products.
While Calgarians have been diligently washing their old jam jars and setting them aside in their blue bins, unfortunately all they have been doing is participating in one of our more expensive and egregious forms of greenwashing.
Calgary’s sorted, cleaned, crushed and transported glass has been sitting in a 10,000 tonne mountain at the Spyhill landfill!.
It is one thing to make a recycled product, it is a whole other ballpark to create a demand for it.
The energy, water and labor involved in recycling our glass in Calgary brings us a near useless end product at a cost of $29 per tonne which now is languishing at the dump. A good make work project I guess but I would rather that labor had been dedicated to patching potholes.
Um, isn’t that what would have happened had we simply put the glass in the garbage in the first place? Tell me again why we are spending all this money, water and energy to clean and sort the stuff?
Yes, the city is going to use the pile of glass as aggregate for roads within the city dump (in other words, burying the glass at the dump). While they do speak of using the glass for other aggregate projects, it really means little as 10,000 tonnes is actually a relatively small volume in the aggregate world. What is not small about 10,000 tonnes of crushed and cleaned glass is the cost.
Gravel which is typically used as road base aggregate can run around $6 per tonne as compared to the $29 per tonne for cleaned crushed glass. This means our mountain of recycled glass is worth about $60,000 but came at a cost of around $290,000. That is an expenditure of $230,000 of taxpayers dollars for actions that used extra water and energy for utterly no use thus making it actually more environmentally damaging than simply tossing the glass in the trash in the first place.
It is very simple to see what is worth recycling. Just look for whatever the private market is willing to pay money for. Metals are well worth recycling thus many businesses that buy scrap metal. Bottles and cans have deposits on them that fund the recycling. Only the cans are really viable on their own. The bottles just make more crushed glass. Some paper products are worth recycling into shingles and such. Plastics are pretty much better in the landfill with the glass.
If we are truly interested in being “green” let’s start to focus on reality with what we are doing then.
Calgary’s (and many other cities) mountain of glass is simply an embarrassment and a testament to people in power who have let their ideals override reality.