SWRC’s recycling database contains 111 listings for places people in the province can take class. (We try for comprehensiveness, but we may have missed a few.) Of these 111 ways to recycle glass, 47 of them (42 percent) are single stream curbside recycling programs, 62 (56 percent) collect glass at a depot, and two of them collect glass in a single-stream depot (all materials go into same big bin). Several communities have both a curbside service and a separate bin for glass, usually at the landfill or recycling processing centre. The largest overall program that collects glass separately is the REACT Waste Management Region, which has depots to collect glass in 32 communities.
The other large player in glass recycling in the province is SARCAN. SARCAN is contracted by the provincial government to handle beverage container glass – juice bottles, wine bottles, etc. These carry a deposit and a handling charge. Consumers can redeem their deposit when they return the glass container to a SARCAN depot. The program excludes non-beverage glass like pickle jars, spaghetti sauce jars and other household glass. Some depots accept this household glass on behalf of their member agency, but it is explicitly excluded from the provincial contract and household glass doesn’t carry a deposit or a handling charge.
Estimates from Saskatoon show that glass is about four percent of the recycling stream. By all accounts, the use of glass as a package is declining, primarily because it is heavy and manufacturers are looking for ways to reduce weight. Its breakability would also be an issue, since many food products are shipped great distances.
Contamination & breakage
Glass collected in single-stream curbside systems breaks. The bigger chunks will make it into a recycling pile, but the smaller pieces slip through with other small materials and can’t be easily extracted. Glass collected in depot bins typically gets contaminated. This is a problem with most unstaffed depots, regardless of what is being collected, but even well-meaning people may forget to take the lids off the jars. Glass collected by SARCAN is clean. SARCAN insists that the lids be removed, it is hand sorted by colour (clear vs coloured) and is a clean a stream as would be possible.
Where does it go?
None of the province’s glass (that we know of) is recycled back into jars and bottles. There are only one or two facilities in the country (none close to Saskatchewan) that create new glass from old.
Saskatchewan markets for glass are few (okay, one). Potters Industries in Moose Jaw melts clear glass into glass beads of various sizes. The end markets vary depending on the size of the bead – from being added to highway paint to make it reflective to sandblasting media. Potters can only use clear glass, and they can only use uncontaminated glass. This knocks out all glass except SARCAN’s since even if it is collected cleanly, it is almost always collected with clear and coloured glass together.
The fibreglass industry is less picky about the colour of glass it uses. There is a processor in Alberta that crushes glass and sells it to producers of fibreglass. Most of SARCAN’s coloured glass goes there. Again, contamination would be an issue, but if it could be clean enough, this market could accommodate glass collected at curbside and through depots.
Crushed glass is also used as an aggregate in road building or other places as a replacement for gravel. The City of Regina crushes it and uses it for landfill cover. Landfills that size are required to be covered every day, so the glass replaces other fill materials.