Channel 2 Investigates

Your recycling may not end up where you think

ATLANTA — People across metro Atlanta are recycling more and more of their household waste.

But few of them know that millions of pounds of the glass they recycle is not being turned into new glass.

In single-stream recycling, homeowners can toss everything from aluminum cans to plastics to paper into a single container.

They assume that those products will be recycled, helping to reduce landfills. But, they're wasting their time with glass, and most don't know it.

"How many people do you think know what you now know?" Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher asked DeKalb resident and recycler Leslie Manaugh.

"None," she said.

Manaugh loves the idea of recycling. But when she started asking DeKalb County solid waste officials what happens to all the recyclables she hauls up her driveway every Friday, she said she couldn't get a straight answer.

The county's website lists glass as a material that will be collected.

DeKalb County officials told Belcher that none of the glass that is collected goes to landfills.

They directed questions to Pratt Industries, the private recycling company with whom the county contracts.

Pratt buys nearly 20,000 tons of DeKalb County's single-stream recycling every year to sort it and move it toward recycling.

In a statement, Pratt told Belcher: "Most of the glass is heavily contaminated with non-glass items, and glass processors have to charge to take the contaminated glass. The charge can be more than taking it to the landfill."

They did not respond to Belcher's question about where they send the glass that is collected in DeKalb.

"I can pretty much tell you that everybody that's putting a bin out, small or large, has no idea their glass is going in the dump," Manaugh told Belcher.

Belcher reported that 3.5 million pounds of DeKalb County's glass will go to landfills this year, plus another 5.6 million pounds from the city of Atlanta.

Wastepro, the recycling contractor for Atlanta, told Belcher in a statement: "Glass is a commodity that currently has no market."

"As far as what residents do, nothing has changed. We are collecting glass. We will continue to collect glass. We are committed to recycling glass to the full extent that we can," Stephanie Benfield, the city's sustainability director, told Belcher.

Benfield said she's committed to recycling, but the economics are clear.

"When there's a market for glass, we're going to take full advantage of it, and if there's not, then it goes to landfill," Benfield said.

Benfield says people who want to recycle glass can take it to the Center for Hard to Recycle Materials at 1110 Hill St. in southeast Atlanta, which specializes in hard-to-recycle materials, including glass.

The center told Belcher that it's seeing more glass, but what Belcher saw is a tiny fraction of what's going into landfills.

Benfield says the city can be more aggressive in getting out the message about glass.

"This is a market. Glass is a commodity like any other commodity, and markets fluctuate up and down," Benfield told Belcher.

Manaugh just wants local governments to level with recyclers.

"Why don't they just send out an email or a letter or a memo and say, 'Right now, we cannot recycle glass,'" Manaugh asked.

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