Pain in the Glass: Akron’s recycling changes are a huge step backward

by Pat Worden

Did you know that glass is one of the world’s most readily recyclable materials, requiring only heating and then cooling to transform and repurpose? Did you know that unlike other recyclables, such as plastic, glass can be recycled almost endlessly, with no discernable loss of quality?

And did you know that glass doesn’t decompose — meaning that once it’s discarded, it’ll be littering the landscape for potentially millions of years?

Given these facts, it was distressing to say the least to learn of the recent changes, including the end of glass recycling, by the Akron municipal recycling system. It was all the more distressing that the changes were reported by correspondents like our own Noor Hindi, with community outreach from the city missing in action. I say this as an Akron resident, a recycler, who received no mailings, flyers, emails, or any other notice that change was coming.

READ MORE: So… what can we recycle?

It’s clear that as a recycling collective, Akron — like most cities — has a lot of room for improvement. Not nearly enough of us recycle. And when we do, as Noor noted, we often do it incorrectly.

But it seems like we’re getting better. I opted in to the curbside recycling program when it came online more than a decade ago, and for years I noted with sadness how few of my neighbors were joining the effort. In time, though, that’s changed. More and more of us are doing our part by parking a blue bin on the devil strip. It was encouraging, and it seemed like it was only getting better.  

Now comes the proverbial curveball: Akron has decided to stop recycling glass, or rather, to stop paying contractor Waste Management to process it. Akron recyclers are confused at best, misinformed at worst, and ill-served across the board. The city has cited market forces and the financial sustainability of glass recycling, as reasons for the change. Perhaps. But the city of Cuyahoga Falls, among others in the area, still accepts glass for recycling. If our neighbors can sustain it, why can’t we?

I understand that changes around the margins will always be needed to keep programs like these viable and efficient. But citizen-recyclers don’t opt in to help create a profit center for the city. We do it for the sake of environmental stewardship, and to help reduce the load on our landfills.

An October 2018 poll on municipal recycling by Harris Insights & Analytics showed that 88 percent of respondents with recycling services where they live felt those services were valuable to the community; 80 percent said that city, state, and federal agencies should prioritize recycling in their spending decisions; and 28 percent would support increased public investment to improve their recycling systems.

If glass recycling was as problematic as city officials say, they should have brought the issue to residents’ attention, and let us decide collectively on the best path forward. Instead they implemented this change unilaterally and without input from taxpayers.

It was a mistake in both planning and execution, and every day that it stands the consequences will keep piling up. So will our non-recycled glass waste.

Pat Worden is a lifelong Akron resident, currently living in Goodyear Heights. He’s a blogger, freelance writer, and former emergency medical technician.