On any given night, bars on Nashville's Lower Broadway go through beer bottles by the thousands — which, the city has realized, is a lot of glass.
In the coming months, Nashville will begin to recycle bottles at downtown bars. If it works, it could stop millions of pounds of glass from going into the trash.
Honky-tonks in downtown Nashville are deeply proud of the bottles they serve beer in — brown glass, usually, with a long neck.
"I mean, the image of a honky tonk, whether it's Nashville or Texas or wherever it is — the long neck just goes with the honky tonk atmosphere," says Brenda Sanderson, who owns a few honky-tonks. "They write songs about it."
But there's an environmental downside to this love of the longneck in a city where there's no glass recycling pickup. At one of Sanderson's bars, the multi-story honky-tonk called The Stage, the bar might throw out about 1,500 bottles during a single hour.
At most honky-tonks downtown, glass alone makes up about two-thirds of their waste, says Sharon Smith with Metro Public Works.
"That's way higher than average than your bars and restaurants that might have more food or might have beer and liquor served in cups," she says.
As Smith tells it, Mayor Megan Barry did a ride-along with trash collectors on lower Broadway shortly after she took office — and was appalled by the amount of glass in the garbage. She asked public works what they could do about it.
"Two years later, we are getting ready to roll out the honky-tonk glass bottle recycling program," Smith says.
Right now, if a Nashville resident or business wants to recycle glass, they have to take it to a Metro dropoff site. Even that still costs the city money. Glass recycling is not a revenue-generator, unlike other recyclable material.
So this new program will be expensive: It will cost Metro more than $400,000 just to collect glass downtown. Plus, the city has to buy special pickup carts that can fit through the narrow alleys behind the bars and handle the weight of thousands of long neck bottles.
The program won't officially start for another couple of months, but bartenders at The Stage have already started separating glass, just to get in the habit. General manager Cheyene Adams says they now have two kinds of garbage cans alternating behind the bar: one labeled for glass-only, and one for everything else.
At first, Adams says, she was skeptical about the city coming in and requesting a big change. Initially, she thought it would be too much trouble.
"But then the more I thought about it, I'm like, 'There's no reason why we can't at least control what goes on behind the bar,' " she says.
As for the trash cans out on the dance floor or by the tables, that will be more of a challenge. Adams says she doesn’t think tipsy customers will pay attention to signs telling them to put their glass in a separate bin.
But even if just half the long necks get recycled, Smith says that would still be a win.
"The honky-tonks probably are producing most of the waste downtown. So there's about, what, 6,000 tons last year? What if you got 3,000 tons of glass, and that was just behind the bar?" she says. "To me, that's massive."