Effective Jan. 1, the University of Michigan Plant Building and Grounds Services has suspended the collection of glass for recycling. This change comes in response to a decline of local glass recycling markets.

The University’s current system is single-stream recycling, where recyclable materials such as paper and recyclable plastics are all collected in the same bin and sorted at a recycling facility. Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority has been the organization providing recycling services to the University, but due to the decline in the glass market, it has ceased its acceptance of glass materials.

In an e-mail interview, Andrew Berki, who is the manager of the Office of Campus Sustainability, stressed that the decision to suspend recycling was directly caused by the change at the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority.

“The decision to suspend glass recycling is due to our recycling facility’s decision to discontinue collecting the material because the local glass recycling market has ceased,” Berki said.

Berki added that glass constitutes 1 percent of the 2,400 tons of material collected annually for recycling at the University.  

“In terms of Sustainability, the decision has a very low impact because glass comprises such a small percentage of U-M’s overall waste stream,” he wrote.

LSA junior Louisa Kane, a CSG University Sustainability Commission member, said the University is taking steps to adjust to this change.  

“The University is already trying to adjust accordingly by finding new replacement products in recyclable materials, as well as developing a separate glass collection system for the glass products that are still floating around campus,” she said.

John Lawter, associate director of University Plant Operations, said the suspension of glass collection is not a significant blow to the recycling operations of the University. He added the change does serve as an indication of reliance of the University’s recycling operations on external factors.

“The impact to our recycling rate will be minimal, however it does illustrate our need to have a flexible program that can respond to market fluctuations,” he said.

The change is one of the larger adjustments to recycling policy that the University has made in recent years, according to Lawter.

“This is probably the first time we have had to backtrack on a program change of this magnitude, though it is still only 1 percent, and is somewhat of a warning on the volatility of the markets and their affects on our program,” he said.

Kane said since the suspension was forced by the decline of glass recycling markets, and wasn’t by University design, students and faculty involved in sustainability and environmental advocacy on campus did not have any say in the matter.

“I personally have heard buzz circulating around it in the sustainability community, but not with much urgency or backlash,” Kane said. “It’s more of a worry of a messy transition into a new system within a such a large institution rather than an outcry of sustainability injustice.”

Berki wrote that Plant Operations has been listening to feedback from the University community regarding the suspension, but cannot fully address concerns since the change was ultimately out of the University’s control.

“Plant Operations has fielded many inquiries from students, faculty and staff regarding this recent change however has not received any specific opposition from environmental advocacy groups or organizations,” Berki said.

Lawter said he thought that the lack of opposition from the University community was due to the fact that the University had no choice in the decision.

“The campus community has been very understanding and cooperative which is good given this is something that is beyond our control,” Lawter said. “We are also getting a lot of good feedback on ideas to minimize the effects of market changes to our program in the future.”

Lawter said one of the biggest concerns that University Plant Operations currently holds is the worry that glass on campus will contaminate the single-stream recycling program. If too much glass is found in a given collection, he said the entire collection must be sent off to a landfill as waste.

“We need to broadly educate the campus community on this change to minimize contamination of our single-stream program with glass,” Lawter said. “We are working with University Communications and the Office of Campus Sustainability on getting the word out in as many forms as possible.”

In regard to the University of Michigan’s image as an environmentally friendly institution and campus, Kaine said he didn’t think things would change.

“As long as the University holds to its statements on accommodating for this change, then hopefully we will rise to the standards we’ve set for ourselves as a University,” he said.

With other campus sustainability initiatives and goals still on track, Berki wrote that he feels that the glass suspension will not hinder the University’s improvement as an environmentally friendly and sustainability conscious institution.

“Despite this setback with glass recycling, we feel the overall outlook for waste reduction on campus is very positive,” Berki wrote. “The campus community is working hard to achieve our campus-wide sustainability goal of reducing waste sent to landfills by 40%”.

When asked about whether or not glass would be re-listed as a collectable material, Lawter said he believes glass will “probably never” be re-added to the single stream.  

“Glass has been problematic at all the Material Recovery Facilities who have converted to single stream, which is most everyone in our neighborhood,” he said.

Berki echoed Lawter’s sentiments, writing that he believed glass would likely not be re-added to the list of acceptable materials. 

“As always, we will continue to face these challenges head-on and hopefully find solutions to them,” he wrote.

 

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