Collaborators needed to support the county and entrepreneurial efforts to separate recyclables

Submitted by San Juan Island Transition Waste Reduction Group

There are many challenging issues in solid waste management for our heavily visited islands. This note from Transition San Juan Island Waste Reduction Team hopes to focus attention on more effective stewardship of waste glass.

We feel that many islanders try to do the right thing with recycling containers and packaging resulting from our consumptive lifestyles. Do you feel frustrated with the uncertainty and inefficiency of comingled recycling and feel a personal responsibility to do better? You ought to be impressed, as we are, with the inspiring community achievements in dealing with solid waste streams by both Orcas and Lopez islands.

In 2011 the county wanted out of operating transfer stations. The Orcas Island community banded together to propose a more nuanced solution to solid waste and took over transfer station operations from the County in 2013. Here, Lautenbach Industries, LTD, a forward-thinking company, contracted to take over the operation of the Sutton Road Transfer Station. In our view, haphazard recycling is comingled to be trucked to locations in western Washington for partial sorting and retransfer to other sites or to be eventually buried with garbage at a distant landfill. Our island’s solution is costly, wasteful and fossil fuel-intensive. This situation is environmentally unacceptable in 2022.

The purchase and installation of “Big Blue”, an Andela Glass Crusher (made in America with a price tag of approximately $150K) in late 2021 by Orcas Recycling Services, shows great promise. A ton of glass becomes a ton of sand with dozens of potential uses.

We don’t know just how much waste glass is comingled here let alone what percentage of that tonnage is actually being properly recycled for industrial reuse on the mainland. Just how much glass is considered unclean (or ruins potentially recyclable cardboard with broken shards) then to be trucked on across the mountains to a methane-belching landfill? Using data from Kitsap County studies of separated curbside recycling indicate that about 23.2% by weight is mixed glass. Applied to 2021 annual tonnage at Orcas Recycling Services that equates to about 184 tons of glass.

All garbage and recycling generated on San Juan Island funnels through the Sutton Road Transfer Station and thereby becomes a Lautenbach Industries responsibility. For 2021 they reported an annual total of 6,865 tons (compared to an Orcas total of 5,551 tons) but reported only 490 tons of comingled recycling (Orcas had about 840 tons). Extrapolating a likely proportional tonnage for San Juan one would expect about 1200 tons of glass. Unfortunately, it appears that a significant number of our residents toss glass in with mixed garbage that is headed to the landfill.

We are looking for collaborators to join our grassroots group in supporting the county and entrepreneurial efforts to separate recyclables again and redirect glass to a future crusher here to reduce disposal costs for the consumer, reduce carbon emissions in transport as well as methane release at landfills, and to create useful inert sand for sale.