Glass Recycling a Smashing Success

piles of glass


Glass-to-Glass Recycling Now Happening
Key to Success: Clean Glass
Where to Bring Your Glass
Quick Refresher on this Change

More than 14 million pounds.

That’s how much clean glass has been collected in purple bins located in Northern Virginia since March 2019 and taken to the region’s only glass-crushing machine in Fairfax County. A truly smashing success that has shattered expectations after a new policy went into effect last year that the county and our private recycling haulers will no longer accept glass bottles and jars at curbside.


But that’s only part of this evolving story. This change has made headlines in the recycling industry — and now the glass you deposit in a purple bin may become a glass product again, all thanks to many of you who’ve participated in this voluntary program.

Glass-to-Glass Recycling Now Happening

North America’s largest glass recycler, Strategic Materials, has begun transporting glass from our processing plant in Lorton to one of its recycling facilities. There, the glass will be processed and sold to manufacturers of a wide range of glass products. One such customer is Owens-Illinois, Inc. also known as O-I, which produces 3.6 million bottles a day at its bottle manufacturing plants in Danville and Toano, Va.

Watch as we help load one of the first loads of glass for Strategic Materials:

Glass collected in Virginia and recycled into glass bottles in Virginia closes the loop on the circular economy, a goal of sustainable communities. According to O-I, glass-to-glass recycling uses less energy than making bottles from original material, reduces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and supports hundreds of jobs.

Key to Success: Clean Glass

“This new market for our glass wouldn’t be possible without our residents,” said John Kellas, solid waste management program director. “They have adjusted their glass recycling habits and are filling up our purple cans almost faster than we can empty them. I appreciate their willingness to participate in the program and their patience as we identify additional drop-off locations and work through the logistics of the new collection routes.”

The quality and volume of clean glass resulted in the partnership with Strategic Materials, which is taking the glass before it’s crushed by the county’s “Big Blue” machine.

“Fairfax County probably has the highest quality of material we’ve seen in a drop-off program,” said Laura Henneman, vice president of marketing and communications for Strategic Materials. “The trial glass load was about 98 to 99 percent usable glass, which is incredible.”

Where to Bring Your Glass

Haven’t participated yet? No problem! Here’s a map of where you can find purple bins in the county, as well as in Alexandria, Herndon, Vienna, Prince William County and Arlington County. And because of the success, some Fairfax County locations are now on a twice-a-week pickup schedule.

And if you can’t bring glass to a purple bin, then either reuse it yourself or simply place it in your regular trash.

Quick Refresher on the Change

Some people still ask why glass is no longer accepted in curbside recycling. Here’s a quick refresher.

Glass creates three main problems for single-stream recycling: 

  1. Glass containers placed in curbside recycling bins break during collection and transport to recycling sorting centers. Broken glass contaminates bales of other more valuable recycled items, such as cardboard and metals. Contamination has become a major problem for the recycling industry in the past two years since China, the largest customer for recycled material, imposed strict standards on the quality of recycled material it accepts.
  2. The abrasive broken glass damages machinery.
  3. Glass is also heavy, which adds cost to transporting recyclables to and from recycling centers.

More Information

Take a listen to our latest EnviroPod episode that talks about glass recycling and find more recycling information online.

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