Erie County’s nearly 270,000 residents now have access to glass recycling at 15 locations, thanks to a collaborative effort to collect and recycle glass bottles and jars. To close the recycling loop for glass, Prism Recycling spearheaded a drop-off pilot program through a public-private partnership between the Erie County Recycling Program, the Erie Area Council of Governments, CAP Glass Recycling, and the Glass Recycling Foundation.
The Glass Recycling Foundation is a non-profit organization established to help support pilot projects like the one in Erie County and others to overcome barriers to glass recycling. “We are pleased to provide our first grant award to support this collaborative effort in Erie County,” said Scott DeFife, president of the Glass Recycling Foundation. “There are strong end-markets for good quality glass in Pennsylvania and programs like this are needed to get that material back into the circular economy and glass supply chain.”
It was, “simply not acceptable,” to Samuel P. “Pat” Black, III, after an announcement from Erie County officials in late 2018 that contracted haulers were removing glass from single-stream recycling. The elder Black is Chairman of Erie Management Group (EMG) that, along with his daughter Sumi James-Black, invests in and manages companies to capitalize on economic opportunities within the Lake Erie region. “We knew this was a larger problem than in just the Erie region, and one that would require a coordinated approach to allow the solution to reach the farthest distance.”
Fast forward to late 2019, Mr. Black read of a potential opportunity to partner with a local small startup business attempting to tackle the problem. The partnership did not come about, and EMG began to brainstorm on how to build a better system of glass recycling for the region, culminating in the launch of Prism Glass Recycling in September 2020.
Prism first set out to establish a public-private partnership pilot project involving local government and the glass recycling and container manufacturing industries. Through a series of discussions and negotiations with the partner organizations, the Glass Recycling Municipal Drop-Off Pilot Project Public-Private Partnership for Erie County, PA was born.
The pilot aims to demonstrate the effectiveness of public and private sector collaboration to establish an efficient means to collect large volumes of glass bringing it back into the regional glass recycling supply chain and support local and regional economic development serving as a model for other midsize communities.
In this partnership, Prism provides overall project management and coordination, and the majority of capital investment to develop the system and business model. Prism manages the glass recycler drop-boxes that were custom fabricated by Switch-N-Go in Hadley, PA. The Erie County government and the Glass Recycling Foundation provided $10,000 each toward the purchase of these drop-boxes to offset the total cost of $77,600.
Promotional help from the Erie County Recycling Program, the Erie Area Council of Governments, an 18 municipality membership association aid in the success of this program. In the early weeks of the program, residents trudged through knee-high snow to drop off their clean and empty glass bottles and jars.
“The way we were collecting glass in single-stream recycling made it nearly impossible to recycle due to breakage and contamination,” said Lynn Armel, Erie County Sustainability Coordinator. “Glass is an endlessly recyclable material, but it must be collected separately. We are really lucky to have a local business making that possible. Erie County Recycling is so pleased to be part of this innovative effort in glass recycling,” she added.
Prism monitors the drop-box fill level via Compology cameras, and when full they are hauled to the SB3 Industrial Park in Erie, PA by a locally contracted hauler and aggregated in a large concrete bunker until there is enough volume to trigger a pick up by CAP Glass Recycling located in Westmoreland County, PA. CAP is the regional glass processor supplying furnace read cullet to the O-I and Ardagh Group glass container manufacturing plants in Brockway and Port Allegany, PA, respectively.
In this pilot project, CAP is contributing technical assistance, physical infrastructure, and trucking services. CAP has been very supportive of other local community-led efforts, such as working with Pennsylvania Resources Council in the Pittsburgh area on their glass recycling program.
Prism Recycling aims to grow the amount of glass collected and expand the drop-off program regionally as they develop residential curbside and commercial glass-only collection services for implementation later in 2021. For now, growing the Prism footprint across the Commonwealth and beyond by harnessing the collective power of business, government and industry is more than a glass full.