Fairfax County’s new glass recycling program shatters expectations

In just a few months, Fairfax County’s new glass-recycling program is reportedly getting great results.

Since the county started its “Purple Can Club” last spring, 2.8 million pounds of glass have been dropped off in special collection bins, one official said.

“That’s over 1,400 tons, which is a substantial amount of glass that’s actually getting recycled now — when before, it basically ended up in the waste stream, even though it was going in the recycle bin,” said Eric Forbes, director of recycling, engineering and environmental compliance for the Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program.

In the past, glass would get broken when mixed with other recyclables, according to the county. Once that happens, it is a lot harder to separate from other items.

On Oct. 1, the county stopped collecting glass from curbside recycling bins. Since then, residents had to instead drop off glass items in collecting bins set up at various locations. Several bins were put in place last spring, and Forbes said the county is up to 14 bins in all now.

In addition, Forbes said the county has been forced to empty out bins more frequently.

“We started out thinking we could pick our roll-off glass containers up once a month, and now we have some on a twice-a-week cycle,” Forbes said.

Some residents complained about the size of the three round holes on the bins, where glass is inserted. Forbes said those holes were specifically designed to keep things that could prevent the collected materials from being recycled.

“And if the hole was bigger or you’re able to dump things in, then we would see a lot more contamination,” Forbes said.

The glass collected is already being used as a bedding for new pipes and backfill for construction projects, Forbes said. Some of the glass has also been sent to a glass processing facility, which uses it to create new bottles, a process that he said is paying for itself.

“Some of the glass that we’re actually collecting in Fairfax County is going … to new glass containers, which is a fantastic thing,” Forbes said.

Forbes’ hope is that the program will continue to grow in popularity, and the county plans to have more drop-off locations in the future.

To find out where the purple bins are located, and which glass items are being accepted, visit the county’s public work’s website.