Crushed Glass For Asphalt

(NZ) Glass recycling is an emotional issue. The satisfaction that comes of taking clinking boxes to the transfer station and dumping consumer guilt at the foot of the bottle bin is priceless to many. But the question of whether or not that cathartic drive (burning fossil fuels) to offload your conscience and lighten your rubbish load is doing much good is debatable. Glass makes up a small portion of the Marlborough landfill, and is leachate free and odourless. Kitchen scraps, on the other hand, make up 20 per cent of the landfill, 30 per cent of people’s rubbish bags and create problems with leachate and methane emissions. Another 50 per cent of Marlborough’s waste stream comes from industry. Those are the facts, but the fact remains that people want to recycle glass. And if they are not supported in that quest, how can they be expected to support the council in its other waste minimisation strategies? These are the issues that have erupted over the last few weeks as a debate raged in the council and on the street about who should be shelling out for recycling. The furore follows mayor Tom Harrison using his casting vote to scrap recycling in Marlborough, following a unanimous vote from the assets and services committee to do so. That spelt the end of a programme in operation since last April that relied on people to separate glass into bins at transfer stations. The reason for its downfall? The glass being sent to Auckland through Mainland Recycling was being rejected half the time because loads were contaminated by wrong colour glass, ceramics, and general rubbish. Joe Public, it seems, was not a reliable recycler. Each rejected container was costing the council and Mainland Recycling’s John Forbes $1400 and Mr Forbes was facing additional costs for dumping the loads in the Auckland landfill. That made the programme a “farce”, said the mayor. “It wasn’t recycling. It wasn’t working. In fact we were doing more damage to the environment. It was a farce.” But the council didn’t reject only the current system, but a handful of other options as well. They could increase sorting supervision at the transfer station at a cost of $19,000 a year, based on the current collection of about 300 cubic metres annually. They could bury glass for future mining, as they did previous to the recycling programme, at $9000. They could collect the glass and transport it to Mainland Recycling in Christchurch for sorting at $29,000. Alternatively, said the committee, they could landfill the glass at $3201 a year. The advice from the committee was to discontinue recycling and that’s what the council did. But not without opposition. Councillor Francis Maher called the decision a psychological step backward based on inadequate information. “The level of discussion was very ill informed and it was weak. The homework hadn’t been done at the committee stage.” The best solution was kerbside recycling but the “minimum bottom line” was to set the smashed bottles aside in the landfill so that they could be mined later on, he said. Cr Maher’s arguments were backed up by public actions. Following the decision representatives of the Marlborough Environment Centre dumped their bottles on the council’s front door in protest and Blenheim woman Julia Davidson set up a petition to put glass recycling back in gear. The to be or not be of glass recycling became a hot topic in Marlborough. Former mayor Gerald Hope brought to light a survey from November, 2000 that indicated a community desire to recycle and a recognition of the costs involved. The mayor conceded that survey had not been addressed in the council’s decision making process, but has since questioned its relevance. But the council did have a policy of recycling, “and as soon as we find a system that is recycling and not an image of it we will be in boots and all”, he said. Cr Maher agreed that the bottle canning was a small “but visible” blip on the council’s general path towards environmentally friendly practices. Worm farming programmes, community grants for environmental projects and other recycling initiatives were all points on the council’s environmental scorecard, he said. Council environment officer Annie McDonald is behind a whole host of initiatives to try to reduce Marlborough’s waste stream. Glass is pretty low on her list. In fact, a waste minimisation strategy put together three years ago did not address glass at all because “you need to look at the biggest volume first and the ones that do the most damage”, she said. Glass makes up five per cent of the landfill and kitchen scraps make up 20. Because kitchen waste is a putrescible that emits leachates and methane the council set in place worm farm subsidies to reduce the waste stream. Since then, there has been a 12.5 to 13 percent reduction in kitchen waste. Hazardous waste was another big issue council addressed by keeping it out of the landfill. With a 30 per cent stake in the landfill, paper was the third issue and last year the council signed a three year contract with the Blue Door Recycling Centre to recycle paper, plastics and cardboard (see accompanying panel). Looking at the environmental, social and economic impact of trash, glass simply doesn’t rate highly, said Ms McDonald. But on the flipside, the council must be seen to value the effort people have made to recycle. “A lot of people feel they have a right to recycle and they feel it is the council’s responsibility. What we are questioning right now is how do they want us to do that?” Ms McDonald asked. Council operations and maintenance engineer Stephen Rooney is the man looking for the answer to that. He makes the point that when spending money on recycling the council needs to consider the environmental and social clout of their dollar. In the 2002 survey the public clearly wrote that they wanted to recycle and they wanted to recycle glass, “but you have to look at about the benefits versus the money you are spending”. A sum of $30,000 could be spent on glass, or on one of the council’s other initiatives such as The Blue Door, he said. There was a real social benefit with glass because the community could participate, “but you have to wonder and question whether there is an environmental benefit in such a small area as Marlborough when you are having to spend that kind of money taking it out.” That was the conclusion Kaikoura company Innovative Waste came to before they started thinking laterally about glass. General manager John Ransley said glass was like the wind. “You get rid of it one day and it is back the next.” Also, people had to consider the fossil fuels that would be used by sending glass to Christchurch. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, but you have to weigh it up,” Mr Ransley said. That done, Innovative Waste ran two diggers and a 10 tonne vibrating roller over a pile of glass the size of a three bedroom house and ended up with a small pile of crushed glass. That was sold as building filler and sand for sandblasting but the company is now using crushed glass as a leachate medium in the landfill – using trash to protect the environment from other trash. The company has used two years worth of glass so far, and expects to use another two years worth before the project is finished. Despite his passion for using waste smartly, he, too, said people had to look at the bigger issue. “At the end of the day if people are getting emotional about stuff going to landfill you should be concerned about putrescibles.” That said, Mr Ransley is not a man to waste a good waste idea and believes Marlborough should crush its glass for building filler. One possibility in an emerging sea of options. David Prosser, from Onamalutu, said that just before World War 2, Germany paved its roads with crushed glass. “It was one of Hitler’s dreams and it is a great place to put crushed glass.” Several decades down the track, Transit New Zealand’s engineering policy manager Paul Hambleton said Transit was researching the possibility of adding crushed glass to asphalt pavement as part of a waste reduction policy. Transit has been working with Christchurch company Recovered Materi
als Foundation. They have been using glass in concrete (Glasscrete), asphalt (Glassphalt) and more recently in wall and floor tiles. Another possible option is for council to accept one of the bottle sorting offers it has received from community groups over the last few weeks. One thing most people agree on is that the best way of addressing waste is in taking it back to its source. “What we want is a more cradle to the grave approach,” said Annie McDonald. “It means that from the time that you make something to the time it is thrown away you look at the environmental, social and economic impact of it.” In the case of glass that would mean inviting the wine industry to the party. In last week’s WinePress, editor David Barnsley said the wine industry had a responsibility to help sustain bottle recycling. “As the bulk of the bottles are produced by the wine industry, surely an obligation exists to remedy the problems for a not very significant investment?” Wine Marlborough chief executive Michelle Beckett said it would be something the industry was likely to sit down and discuss, as long as the cost was not prohibitive to business. Other wine companies are looking beyond payouts. Neroli Gold, from the Kaikoura Wine Company, is looking at using crushed glass under her vines as part of her zero waste policy. Meanwhile, Stephen Rooney, John Forbes and Cloudy Bay Winery are looking at the option of shipping bottles out in the containers in which they arrive. A variety of problems is making that one a tough nut to crack, but it shows the industry, council and recyclers are still working together to find a workable way of recycling. In the meantime, the arguments for and against the council’s decision will go round and round and round. But that is, after all, the nature of recycling.

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