Photograph by Steven Higgs

Monroe County recycling officials are considering a new approach to recycling glass. Monroe County Solid Waste Management District Director Larry Barker said negotiations are in process that would allow the district to sell glass directly to the recyclables market.

After touring two “recycleries” and interviewing at least a dozen public and private officials with responsibility for recycling in Monroe County, the best answer I can give those who asked is:

“Your glass bottles probably are being recycled. But you have to take the word of a $4.5-billion Florida-based waste-hauling corporation on it, an industrial giant that also owns and operates landfills across the country, including one about 50 miles east-northeast of here.


Last in a series

“And even though the City of Bloomington and the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District tell you that your recycling is free, you are subsidizing that corporation with your effort, gas money and tax dollars.

“The man who knows the most about where recyclables collected in Monroe County end up told me that, under the most ideal market conditions, he can sell glass for $40 a ton. The tax-funded city and waste district pay a subsidiary of Republic Services Inc. $41 a ton to send glass to another Republic subsidiary in Indianapolis, which then sells it to a Chicago recycler."

That was before Monroe County Solid Waste Management Director Larry Barker advised me of pending changes in glass recycling on Sept. 16. I’ll reserve my right to alter my view if and when a new policy emerges.

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As one who has written about recycling since before the waste district existed and the city started collecting curbside, I didn’t expect too many surprises as I embarked on this journey, even though it’s been a few years since I paid serious attention to anything other than putting my recyclables on the curb every other Thursday night.

"Your glass bottles probably are being recycled. But you have to take the word of a $4.5-billion Florida-based waste-hauling corporation on it."

Who could possibly be surprised to learn that our elected leaders have turned total responsibility for an important program of social and environmental benefit over to a giant corporation?

This community likes to tout its progressive character, but in fact, as recycling shows, its leaders are dyed-in-the-wool neo-liberals. Free-market principles hold sway in Bloomington, just as they do in Indianapolis and Washington.

For example, as a district board member, Bloomington’s Democratic Mayor Mark Kruzan voted in 2004 with Republicans Joyce Poling, Herb Kilmer and Jeff Ellington to privatize the district’s recycling operation. His vote, along with now-County Commissioner but then-Ellettsville Town Board Member Pat Stoffers, also a Democrat, sealed the deal.

The city’s one-sentence contract for glass recycling with Republic subsidiary Hoosier Disposal & Recycling says, effectively, “Get it out of our sight and do with it what you will.”

The waste district seems to have contractual leverage in a clause that says: "Hoosier will provide a monthly report to the District showing the volume of each commodity type received and where it was sent."

But district officials have never chosen to use that provision to learn exactly where recyclables collected in Monroe County go or if they are in fact being remanufactured.

They take the corporation’s word.

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Speaking of the corporation at issue here, the latest news suggests that Bloomington-area recyclers will soon be trusting an even bigger corporation with their paper, plastic, cans and glass.

Here’s the latest news I could fine on Republic Services. It’s from the July 21, 2008, issue of the trade publication Waste News.

Waste merger plot thickens

“A high-stakes boardroom drama is playing out at the very top of the solid waste management industry that involves the nation's largest three companies and potentially could impact millions of customers around the country.

“Houston-based Waste Management, the nation's largest trash company, muddied the waters when it came out last week with a $6.3 billion offer for No. 3 Republic Services.

“But Republic Services, on July 18, rebuffed that idea and, instead, indicated the company is still committed to a merger with Allied Waste.

“That left Waste Management disappointed and studying its options.”

Waste Management is the nation's largest waste processor. Allied Waste is second and Republic third.

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The one thing that really did surprise me in this series was the fact that all the glass that the county waste district collects at the Recycling Center gets mixed together before it gets remanufactured.

"“Houston-based Waste Management, the nation's largest trash company, muddied the waters when it came out last week with a $6.3 billion offer for No. 3 Republic Services."
- Waste News
July 21, 2008

I know why the center was set up the way it is. Glass reaches its highest market value when it is clean and separated by color. Clean means uncontaminated by things like lids and rings and labels.

More than one source told me that the district used to ship clean, separated glass to a Strategic Materials processing plant in Indianapolis. Strategic is another corporate giant, self-described on its Web site:

“Strategic Materials' largest business is its Glass Processing Division. The Glass Processing Division collects both post-industrial and post-consumer scrap glass and processes it into a raw material called ‘cullet.’ The cullet is then primarily sold to glass container and fiberglass manufacturers for use as a raw material in their glass production processes.

“We operate a network of 31 processing plants and aggregation depots across the U.S., Canada and Mexico under the name Strategic Materials. Strategic Materials is the largest glass processor in North America selling approximately 1.3 million tons of glass cullet each year.”

All glass collected in the city is shipped to a Strategic plant in Chicago, which accepts it all mixed together, I was told. No glass goes to the Indianapolis plant because that plant requires clean and color-separated glass.

I asked District Director Larry Barker about this, and he wrote in an e-mail:

“As we speak, negotiations are ongoing with Hoosier so we can market our glass directly to Strategic Materials Inc. of Indianapolis. Currently glass is only color sorted at Central Station (Recycling Center). However, if we get the negotiations approved, we will be color sorting at all five locations.”

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.