Curious Nashville: Why There’s No Curbside Glass Recycling — For Now | Nashville Public Radio

Curious Nashville: Why There’s No Curbside Glass Recycling — For Now

Jul 19, 2016

Inquiring minds — especially newcomers to Nashville — often wonder about the city’s recycling program. Now, spurred by a question submitted to WPLN’s Curious Nashville, there’s some news about an expansion of glass recycling and an explanation of its history here.

And since it’s hard to capture the query any better, here’s how listener (and local reporter) Cari Wade Gervin phrased it:

You can recycle glass curbside in Chattanooga, Memphis, and Knoxville, but not here. What gives?

The answer — diplomatic and detailed — comes from Jenna Smith, spokeswoman for Metro Public Works.

“Glass has always been a bit of an economic challenge for Nashville, as well as many cities,” Smith said. “There’s not really much of an end-use market and it’s not easy to recycle it … glass is definitely one of the lowest-value commodities out there.”

She said glass requires specialty trucks, and it damages equipment. It’s heavy and tough to transport.

As it stands, Metro accepts glass drop-offs at 12 sites. But even managing that has become onerous.

The city hauls that glass to the nearest facility, which is in Atlanta, and now has to pay to deposit it there — $38.50 per ton. That led to a bill of more than $87,000 last year, plus other costs, that ran Metro's overall spending to $143, 492 (whereas other recyclables can earn money). See annual recycling data here.

This means that expanding toward curbside recycling would likely pose a financial challenge, in terms of equipment and staffing.

Nashville's recycling data for the most recent fiscal year.
Credit Metro Public Works

How do other Tennessee cities pull it off? It's not going so well. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported last year that curbside-recycled glass in that city ends up in a landfill. And Knoxville is apparently considering removing glass from curbside bins.

When curbside glass collection was considered in 2012 in Spring Hill, it was ultimately rejected because of costs and the worry that broken glass would “pollute” the entire recycling stream, a spokesman told WPLN. Franklin has also looked for ways to recycle glass, but hasn’t found a solution, according to a spokeswoman. 

Test Run For Curbside Recycling

Yet Metro Public Works often hears from homeowners who want curbside recycling, and even from Mayor Megan Barry.

“This has been an ongoing sort of frustration: How do we make this happen?” Smith said.

The agency studied options and recently put out a request for proposals. That has led officials to look at downtown for a pilot program, where about half the waste is glass.

“You can go downtown on any Friday or Saturday night, there’s just so much glass that is being produced,” Smith said.

Still, only two bids came into Metro. There hasn’t been a decision on a downtown glass collection method, but Smith said it could be a rolling unit or a collection bin on a small plot.

Meanwhile, an even broader study has been commissioned for all of Davidson County waste management. That will begin with a public survey and will examine the use of landfills, technology that converts waste to energy, and potential law changes related to recycling.

Glass is accepted for recycling at 12 sites in Nashville, but a new program is being considered.
Credit Tony Gonzalez / WPLN