Glass recycling may return to Savannah

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 1:15 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 22, 2021 at 6:41 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s been more than five years since the city of Savannah quit recycling glass, but now it looks like that could change.

In June, a WTOC Investigation found a quarter of what Savannah residents recycle - including all of the glass they may think they’re recycling - ends up in a landfill. In the past few years alone, the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars shipping-off contaminated recyclables. Glass is a big part of that problem.

But now, the city is looking to flip the script, and turn all of that glass into cash.

Alderman Nick Palumbo showed WTOC what could be if the city opts to partner with a local glass recycling manufacturer.

“If you’re out having an adult beverage, your glass could be turned into this tomorrow,” said Palumbo, holding a rock-like filtration system made out of recycled glass.

A quick refresher on Savannah’s recycling dilemma. Savannah still accepts glass in its single-stream recycling program. But that glass does not get recycled. That’s partly because China recently quit taking America’s recycled goods. Meaning, there just isn’t a market for it.

City officials estimate glass alone costs the city $150,000 annually. They said in 2020, 25 percent of Savannah’s recyclables, including roughly 1,000 tons of glass, ended-up in the landfill. Palumbo said that’s created some confusion, and distrust.

“We recycle paper, we recycle plastics, we recycle aluminum. The thing we don’t recycle today is glass,” Palumbo said.

“We’re looking at ways to curtail glass collection here on our recycling program,” said Savannah Director of Sanitation Gene Prevatt. Prevatt recently told WTOC the city is actively searching for a solution.

And, as it turns out, they may have found one.

WTOC has learned city officials recently toured the “Glass WRX” facility in Beaufort County. Glass WRX is a recycled glass manufacturer. Pictures from one of those tours show Glass WRX already has made Savannah-themed recycling bins. Based in Charleston, the company expanded to Beaufort last year.

He’s cracked the code in trying to upcycle this product other people are throwing away,” Palumbo said.

Palumbo said the city could make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the glass it collects. That would help offset recycling costs. The city says recycling and litter services cost taxpayers more than $3.7 million each year.

Prevatt confirmed the city is considering a potential partnership.

“Yes, we have been in touch with those folks. We actually toured the plant recently,” Prevatt said. “We’re looking at all our options right now.”

The city projects its landfill to be full around 2035. Alderman Palumbo believes it’s time to act. He hopes the city will move forward with a glass recycling pilot program by the end of this year.

“We can take a product that we’re throwing away today, make some revenue off of it, and do right by our environment and extend the life of our landfill all at the same time,” Palumbo said.

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