I've been feeling guilty lately that I can no longer recycle glass. Every beer, wine, champagne, or Framboise bottle now just goes straight to the garbage heap. In an attempt to lessen my own impact and impart some wisdom to other party people --Thursday is Earth Day after all -- I spoke with a few experts about what we can do to help and alleviate some of the guilty pangs of a heavy clinking thud in my trash can.
Randy Virgin, general manager of the Anchorage Recycling Center, said the center is owned by a Lower 48-based company with several facilities across the country. Everything Alaskans take to be recycled is sent to Seattle.
"Our company hauls the recycling," Virgin said. "We don't handle any of it directly."
The biggest hurdle with glass is its weight and its difficult to ship, Virgin said.
"Glass breaks, liquid goes everywhere, when it gets to Seattle it's difficult to get out. It makes it uneconomical to ship south."
A local company used to break glass down to fine particles, but the market dried up. When they ceased operations glass recycling stopped.
Virgin said the city is currently interested in developing and finding a new interest for reused glass.
"There are people actively working on this," he said. "I'm continuing to be hopeful but it's going to take awhile."
He also pointed out that glass' origins make it unique.
"I don't like throwing it away any more than anyone else," Virgin said. But, he added, "at the end of the day, it's just sand. If I had to choose between glass and plastic, I'd choose recycling plastic because the effects on the environment are much worse. You don't use toxins to produce glass in the first place."
Megan Pool, member relations coordinator at Green Star, Inc. said there may be a solution on the horizon.
"The Alaska Manufacturing Extension Partnership just put out a report titled 'Potential Recycled Glass Products for Manufacturing in Anchorage, Alaska.' The major issue is the economics of recycled glass product and that we need to identify local markets for the product in order to make the venture worth it economically."
In the meantime, she has some other options for Anchorage residents.
"I also try to explain to people a little bit about pre-recycling, which happens before you purchase the product and its packaging," Pool said. People can buy beer in cans instead of bottles, and recycle the cans. Boxed wine is easier to cart on a camping or fishing trip and the cardboard it comes with can also be recycled.
Pool's ideas include visiting a local brewery or trying some local wines or the local vodka.
"I can't stress enough the importance for buying local to sustain our community," she said.
There's a big movement in sustainable and organic products and brands for beer, wine, and liquor out there - talk to your liquor store rep or find something online you'd like to try.
Beer drinkers can keep growlers on hand instead of buying a six-pack of bottles. When you're not at home, try getting beer on draft versus something in a bottle.
So come on night-lifers, let's see what we can do to help. Sometimes when you're busting a move on the dance floor bottles are easier to carry, but next time you're out think for a minute about the bigger picture.
Check out the next blog for ways to be eco-friendly in your party planning. Salud!