Savannah suspends its glass recycling

The popular program soared in glass collection volume in recent months.
Glass recycling collection container at Bacon Park Transfer Station in Savannah, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Mary Landers/The Current GA)

Credit: Mary Landers

Credit: Mary Landers

Glass recycling collection container at Bacon Park Transfer Station in Savannah, GA. (Photo Courtesy of Mary Landers/The Current GA)

This story was originally published by The Current GA.

Savannah’s recycling efforts have taken a step backward with the suspension of a popular glass recycling program.

For about 15 months, residents have been bringing glass bottles and jars to drop-off sites around the city. That program abruptly shut down in March.

“The reality is the contractor stopped doing it so we can’t provide the service,” Mayor Van Johnson announced at a weekly press conference.

That contractor, GlassWRX LLC, agreed in the summer of 2022 to collect and reuse discarded glass from a dozen roll-off containers placed around the city. The Beaufort, S.C.-based company melted the glass and milled it into lightweight porous chunks used for air or water filtration or as an aggregate for lightweight concrete.

Glass WRX SC takes discarded glass and makes it into these porous rocks used in building applications. (Photo Courtesy of Mary Landers/The Current GA)

Credit: Mary Landers

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Credit: Mary Landers

Savannah agreed to pay $104,000 GlassWRX annually for the service. Pickups were slow to get started but proved popular once the first bins were placed in early 2023. The initial contract included four available annual renewal options.

GlassWRX did not respond to an email request for comment. A listed phone number for the company was no longer in service.

The city lost no money with the abrupt end of the program.

“The City pays as we go so no extra monies were given to the contractor other than what we already processed,” a city spokesperson wrote in an email.

‘A worthy cause’

Savannah’s mixed curbside recycling program, launched in 2009, initially accepted and recycled glass along with paper, cardboard, aluminum, and some plastics. But a decision by the Chinese in 2018 to restrict its imports of recyclables upended municipal recycling programs across the U.S., including Savannah’s. The recycling contractor, Pratt Industries, stopped recycling Savannah’s glass but continued to pay Savannah $15 a ton for recyclables until its initial contract expired in 2019.

With the market changed by China’s restrictions, the city has since had to pay Pratt about $100 a ton to take its recyclables.

From the beginning of the glass recycling program, Glasswrx hired a subcontractor, the Upcycling Company, to transport the glass and the collection bins.

Derrick Standley, the CEO of the Upcycling Company said the shutdown in Savannah reflects problems with GlassWRX, not with glass recycling generally.

“This should not give the impression that glass recycling is a waste of time. It’s not,” Standley said in a phone interview. “It’s a worthy cause, and it will be back.”

Savannah’s collection volume soared from 10-12 tons a month at the start of 2023 to 80 tons a month recently. And the collected glass was unusually “clean,” or free of non-glass materials.

“Savannah’s 97% cleanliness rate in glass is unheard of anyplace else in the U.S.,” he said.

With “You Stay Glassy Savannah” painted on the side, the collection bins were a hit, and that same marketing savvy was applied to targeted social media campaigns that got the word out about glass recycling in various city neighborhoods, Standley said.

Johnson vowed to find a long-term solution for glass recycling.

“We’re just as disappointed as you,” Johnson told residents. “We are actively exploring alternative actions to relaunch.”

For now, Savannah’s Sanitation Department is removing signage and drop-off containers associated with the program. It advises residents to throw glass containers in their regular trash bins.

Credit: The Current GA

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Credit: The Current GA


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