Walla Walla to discontinue glass recycling

Emily Lin-Jones

Should Walla Walla do away with glass recycling? This was the question presented to attendees of a Sustainability Committee meeting on Tues., March 6 at the Walla Walla City Hall. The committee accepted public comment regarding the current glass recycling program and resolving to bring concerns and ideas from the community before the City Council to assist in their upcoming decision for the program.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

 

“The sustainability committee vetted [the program] over the course of about six months last year and determined that the current program really is not sustainable by any definition of the word: economically, environmentally, or [from a] social equity standpoint,” said Sustainability Coordinator Melissa Warner.

The city of Walla Walla removed glass from its curbside collection program in 2008, instead placing several drop-off points for glass products around town. Since then, the city has collected almost 1000 tons of glass from these depots, all of which has been brought to the Sudbury Landfill to be crushed and used as stabilizer for asphalt roads. In past years, the city sent the glass on to a bottle manufacturer in Portland, but rising gas costs and low market value for glass have made this economically infeasible.

“The glass market is low and very stagnant. It has been for probably the last 20 to 25 years. There’s not really been any kind of incentive for the glass manufacturing industry to purchase that material, particularly from jurisdictions like [Walla Walla] who have a collection [they] need to get rid of,” said Warner.

Walla Walla is not the only community in Washington struggling with an excess of empty bottles; Spokane, with a population nearly eight times that of Walla Walla, has also been stockpiling its glass over the past few years. In the nearby city of Yakima, glass is ignored by the local recycling system and ends up in the dump with other garbage.

In Walla Walla, the inconvenience of having to transport glass to collection spots discourages many businesses and community residents from participating in the system.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

“If I had to guess, the majority of glass in this community is already going into the landfill,” said Sustainability Committee member Sandra Cannon.

Some local business owners agreed that Walla Walla city policy has given them little incentive to go to the effort of recycling glass.

“The problem that we’ve had over the years is that [glass recycling] has been inconsistent. It’s allowable at times, and then they shut it down . . . It’s so inconsistent we just kind of dropped it,” said Jim Moyer, owner of Fort Walla Walla Cellars.

Ron Williams of Waterbrook Winery felt similarly.

“The great tragedy is that Walla Walla does not [collect] glass. . . We occasionally try to take a truckload to the recycle [depot]. Even in that case they’re not recycling, they’re reusing,” he said.

Williams noted that while wineries currently have no financial incentive to recycle their glass, the moral incentive still exists.

“I think more wineries in Walla Walla would really get behind [recycling] just because of the demographic. Many of us come from places where recycling is incredibly normal, so it’s weird to come someplace where you can’t recycle,” he said.

At the Sustainability Committee’s meeting, residents came to present their own ideas about the program. Among the proposed solutions were downtown glass art installations and campaigning for a statewide “bottle bill” which would require a refundable deposit on all plastic or glass bottles.

City Council member Barbara Clark said she was encouraged by the strong community presence at the meeting, and hoped to receive more public feedback in the future.

“From my own perspective, the usefulness of having people [at the meeting] is that there are always a few members of the council who think, why should we bother with recycling at all?” she said. “It is useful for the council to see that a lot of members of the public really want to see recycling happen and would like the city to at least keep looking into possibilities for recycling.”

Walla Walla resident Kurt Othburg said he makes use of the current glass recycling system and hopes to see it continued in some form.

“We’re dedicated glass recyclers. We’ve liked this program since they started it four years ago. . . I think it’s a good idea [to recycle glass], especially because [Walla Walla] is the wine capital of the state. Can you imagine wine in plastic bottles?” he said.

Other residents have a personal stake in the recycling program.

“When I was in college I helped canvas to get a bottle bill on the ballot, but outside money from bottle manufacturers outspent the public and got it defeated. I’d like to see [the city] recycle more. I want to leave our kids a better planet, rather than lots of overfilled landfills,” said resident Beth Powers, also present at the meeting.

Whitman students also had ideas for the future of glass processing in Walla Walla.

“It would be cool if Whitman offered jobs related to cleaning out bottles [for reuse]. If you could get students volunteering their time that would make things a lot easier,” said sophomore Jenny Gonyer, who lives at the Outhouse and recycles weekly.

At present, however, no practical solutions seem imminent and the glass reuse program is still in jeopardy.

“Nothing’s really on the immediate horizon to find a different, better solution,” said Warner.

The council will deliberate on the issue in April and implement their decision in May. In the meantime, they will continue to accept comments on their website through March 20.