In Rhode Island, glass is not recycled because many of the companies that used to buy recycled glass bottles and jars are now using plastic instead because it’s cheaper. Now, the glass that goes to the recycling center in Rhode Island is crushed up and used to cover the landfill every night. So while the glass isn’t being recycled, it is being reused.


Megan: Welcome to Possibly, where we take on huge problems like the future of our planet and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers.

Megan: Here at Possibly, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about recycling, so we’re going spend a few episodes on this topic. Today, we have a question from listener Lisa Malone. Lisa’s really into recycling, but recently she heard something that made her worried:

Lisa: Well several years ago, I had heard that the glass recycling in Rhode Island wasn’t actually getting recycled. And it bummed me out because I think glass is one of those things that can be recycled forever. 

Megan: So Lisa wants to know: Is it true that Rhode Island’s glass isn’t getting recycled?

Megan: Producer Lauren Black is part of the Possibly team and looked into this question…. Welcome Lauren!

Megan: So Lauren, what did you find out? 

Lauren: Well, to answer Lisa’s question, we actually took a trip to the place that handles all our recycling: the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center. And the staff there told us that it’s true: at the moment, none of the glass we put in our recycling bins here in Rhode Island is actually getting recycled.

Megan: Really?

Lauren: Yup.

Megan: Why?

Lauren: Well, we talked to Krystal Noiseux, the recycling center’s Education and Outreach Manager, and she said that for something to be recycled, there has to be a manufacturer who wants to buy it. If there’s no buyer for glass, the people at Resource Recovery can’t recycle it, even if they want to.

Krystal Noiseux: It’s not us waking up in the morning and deciding what you can recycle.

Lauren: And unfortunately, at the moment, the market for recycled glass is tough. Over the years, tons of companies that used to put their products in glass bottles and jars have switched to plastic because it’s cheaper. That means fewer and fewer manufacturers are buying recycled glass, and recycling centers all over New England have had to start putting their glass in landfills.

Megan: So what’s happening with our glass? Is it just going into the landfill?

Lauren: It is–but it turns out it’s not actually going to waste. Krystal drove us on a tour of the landfill to explain exactly where the glass is going these days.

Lauren: You’re actually seeing right here the open, active part of the landfill

Lauren: So when you drive up to the landfill, you see some piles of trash alongside other parts that are covered with things like big plastic tarps. Krystal says for health and safety reasons, the landfill has to be covered every night with six to eight inches of material.

Krystal Noiseux: So it can’t just be an open pit of trash. it’s part of keeping the surrounding air water wildlife and people safe.

Lauren: So, instead buying new materials to do that, they’ve been using crushed up glass as cover. They sprinkle it on top of the dump every night, scrape it off in the morning, and then reuse it the next night..

Megan: So, the glass isn’t being recycled in the way you might think- but it is being reused.

Lauren: Right.

Megan: Thank you, Lauren!

Megan: That’s it for today. If you have a question about the way you recycle, use energy, or make any other choice that affects the planet, tell us about it using the form on our question page.

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