Photograph by Steven Higgs
Dan Gajus, general manager at Hoosier Disposal & Recycling, said all recyclables collected from the City of Bloomington curbside pickup, the Recycling Center and rural collection sites are shipped to Indianapolis for sorting and disposition. He acknowledged that processing glass is not always profitable for his company.
Steve Volan was the only Monroe County Solid Waste Management District board member to give a straight answer when asked if glass and other materials collected at the Recycling Center and rural drop-off sites are recycled or landfilled.
Second in a series
Board members Joyce Poling and Mark Kruzan couldn't respond. Poling did not attend the district's Aug. 7 public hearing on the 2009 budget at which the issue was discussed. Kruzan arrived late and left early, before the conversation arose.
Board member Patrick Stoffers said he believes glass is being recycled but couldn't say for sure.
"Do I know?" he said. "I have never gotten in my vehicle and followed a truck to its final destination."
Board Vice President Iris Kiesling, whose experience with the district dates to its inception in the early 1990s, responded that recycling is essentially an act of faith in Monroe County.
"There comes a time when you just have to trust government a little bit," she said.
The district's contract with Hoosier Disposal & Recycling to accept and process recyclables like glass does not require the company to document that the materials are in fact recycled. It does not prohibit Hoosier from landfilling any recyclable it collects.
Volan acknowledged that the board does not know and has no authority to find out.
"The short answer ... is no," he said. "We don't know whether glass is being recycled. ... And we should."
Kiesling and Stoffers aren't the only local officials who rely upon faith, as opposed to oversight, for public-private recycling agreements that are financed with public funds.
The City of Bloomington's Board of Public Works contracts with Hoosier for the disposal of all trash and recyclables picked up curbside by city sanitation trucks. And like the waste district's contract, the city's contract provides no legal means for the public or its elected officials to learn the ultimate disposition of any materials that the city collects.
"The contract does not require that," Public Works Director Susie Johnson said during a recent interview in her City Hall office.
Johnson said she inquired about glass a few months ago when citizens raised the issue. She spoke with Hoosier officials in Bloomington and at its parent company, Republic Waste Services, as well as a buyer in Chicago.
"I spent like two days tracking this down and talked to that guy, not just the people at Hoosier or Republic in Indianapolis, but to the guy who purchases it," she said. "I felt confident that the glass was being recycled."
City recycling trucks deliver trash and recyclables to Hoosier's transfer station on State Road 37 just south of Dillman Road. The city pays the company per ton of material delivered.
The city's contract with Hoosier is less detailed than the waste district's, which is 14 pages. The substance of the city's is less than one.
The city contract breaks recyclables into two categories: "Recyclable paper" and "Comingled recycling (plastic 1-7, steel and aluminum cans, and glass)." The city pays Hoosier $41 per ton to process the comingled materials and receives a $5-per-ton rebate from Hoosier for paper.
Based upon her work with Hoosier and her recent inquiries about glass, Johnson said she is confident the company is doing what it says.
"We negotiate with Hoosier in good faith," she said. "They tell me that they're doing the right thing. I don't have any reason to disbelieve them."
With respect to market value, glass is the most volatile recyclable, said District Director Larry Barker. The district receives rebates from Hoosier for paper products, aluminum cans, metal cans and plastics.
"There comes a time when you just have to trust government a little bit.
- Iris Kiesling, MCSWMD vice president
"We are fairly confident that those four commodities are being recycled," he said. "Now, as far as the glass issue, I haven't followed the truck, so I don't know."
Board President Warren Henegar said glass has long been an issue for the district.
"We're very much aware of this," he said. "We're concerned about it. It comes up every month. We've got studies where we're working on it. It's a real problem."
Kiesling acknowledged that rising fuel costs are negatively impacting recycling markets for products like glass.
Board Member Dan Swafford said the district and its Citizens Advisory Committee are exploring the glass issue.
"We were looking for road usage and other things," Swafford said. "I think we were looking into different uses besides recycling to find out exactly what we could do with glass."
Hoosier General Manager Dan Gajus agreed that processing glass is at best a break-even proposition, sometimes profitable, sometimes not.
"I would say that's fair to say," he said.
Hoosier is a subsidiary of Republic Waste Services, the nation's third-largest waste handler, and ships all glass to a Republic regional sorting facility in Indianapolis, he said.
There have been times when Republic has had to store glass until market conditions improved, Gajus said. But the company is committed to glass recycling.
Bloomington Recycles: Fact or fiction?
"As far as this facility is concerned, until we're told that we have no outlet or we can't do anything with it, we're committed to our customers to take the glass and process it and recycle it," he said.
As part of its waste services in Indiana, Republic owns the Sycamore Ridge Landfill just east of Terre Haute. But Gajus said he is not aware of Republic ever landfilling glass that came from the Bloomington facility.
"I can tell you every piece of glass that's come through this facility that we've shipped to Indianapolis, to my knowledge, that yes indeed they are trying to recycle that as much as possible," he said.
Gajus said he would not object to documenting what Hoosier does with the recyclables it collects and making it available to the district and the public.
"No, not at all," he said. "... We'd be glad to let people know who our vendors are or who we take materials to."
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.