Private Glass Collection Service Sees Uptick As Residents Lose Public Option

Oct 4, 2019

A pile of glass at an ACE Glass recycling facility in Little Rock.
Credit Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

In Hillcrest resident Becca Green's glass recycling bin, there are a total of eight bottles.

"It's actually the fullest today that it's almost ever been since I started this program, which I anticipate I started in April I think?" Green said.

The bin is gray, with a white ACE Glass logo printed on its side. According to Green, ACE Glass comes around every two weeks to pick up the glass. She started using their service back in March, paying $100 annually to do so.

"I knew that as of April 1, the city was not going to collect glass so I wanted to make sure I didn't miss and have any downtime," Green said.

In March of this year, residents of Little Rock learned they would no longer be able to include glass in their recycling containers as a part of single-stream recycling. According to Little Rock’s Public Works Department, when the cities of Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood agreed to extend its contract with Waste Management, which handles recycling pickup, glass collection was no longer included in its services.

Melinda Glasgow, the sustainability officer for Little Rock, says there are reasons why glass pickup is more trouble than the recycling of other materials.

"As everyone knows, glass breaks. And so when it does in the cart, it contaminated other recyclables, mainly the fibers, making them not as high quality and just compromising the quality, basically, for resale of that particular commodity. So that's one of the main reasons I think they didn’t want to handle it," Glasgow said.

A March statement from Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District of Pulaski County, which facilitated the contract between the three cities and Waste Management, said the change in policy was "being made to help improve the effectiveness of the local recycling process and sustain its environmental benefits."

Hillcrest resident Becca Green's ACE Glass recycling bin.
Credit Sarah Kellogg / KUAR News

Bailey Moll, spokesman for Waste Management, says the decision to cut pickup glass recycling in the contract was mostly amicable between all parties involved.

"I think with ACE coming online and everyone knowing about what they were doing and knowing the challenges that we have as far as keeping commodities clean, needing them to be even cleaner than they're required today because our end users are stricter on us…I think that was probably why some of that suggestion to take [out] glass came out. Certainly we knew that would help us out a little bit here," Moll said.

Which brings us to the almost 1.5 million pounds of glass located roughly 2 miles from the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Courtney Little, the president of ACE Glass, says the company began its glass collection service, including the installation of glass drop off centers, on Jan. 1, a few months before Waste Management stopped its collection service in April. That caused an increase in ACE's collection.

"Since that time is when we've really seen a spike in volume and a lot more partners have agreed to put drop-off places at their businesses and we've had I think around 600 people have signed up for a subscription right now," Little said.

ACE Glass's service is currently voluntary, which differs from the city's recycling program which all residents pay for along with their trash pickup, whether they use it or not. Little says if ACE's program was mandatory, where everyone would have to pay for it, as opposed to voluntary, they would get a lot more participation.

"For glass, if it's voluntary, about 12% of people participate in glass recycling deals, if it's any kind of drop off center or whatever. If it goes to mandatory and put in curbside, it goes to 40%," Little said. "That's a huge jump in participation and you would say, 'Well what about the other 60% of people in town? They're paying for something that they're not using.’ And my analogy is just like some of the highways or parks in town, you donate to those and they're available and you should use them because they're great add-ons or amenities that our city has. But if you choose not to use them, that's your choice."

In order for that to happen, the company would need a city-wide contract. According to Glasgow, that is something Little Rock is interested in.

"Actually that's something we’re looking at right now. There's an RFP that we are looking at internally right now. So that's quite possible, but it would have to be passed by our Board of Directors," Glasgow said.

That RFP or "Request for Proposal" opened on Sept. 23. Organizations can bid on this particular RFP to become Little Rock's glass recycling pickup service. The RFP itself sets several eligibility requirements such as following the city's holiday schedule and picking up glass recycling every two weeks. The deadline for bids is Oct. 16. The RFP can be viewed here

Little says ACE Glass is preparing its bid for the RFP and said they are working on modifying its current program to meet all of the requirements of the RFP. He said it was "fantastic" the city was beginning this process and even if ACE Glass ultimately does not win the bid from the city, it would be open to working with whoever collects glass for this city.

Right now, the focus of ACE Glass's recycling program is the collection, which comes in multiple colors and ranges in size from pickle jars to wine bottles. There is not a designated space to do anything with the glass it is collecting. However, Little says they do a have a product in mind to use the glass for.

"We’re going to turn it into, they call it a glass-foam aggregate, which is a lightweight rock made of glass and foam and then you recook it. And then they can use that for infrastructure projects and things like that. So it'll actually help the state save money on highway bridges and things like that," Little said.

One benefit to making that specific product is the glass itself doesn't need to be further sorted into color, which would amount to more work and time. Though ACE Glass initially wanted to conduct that process at its current location, Little said ultimately they realized they would have to go offsite. The company is looking into moving to a new location near the Little Rock Port.

"We're going to start the process of identifying a property and then building a facility. So we're probably talking 12 to 18 months before we have that, but in the meantime we'll be growing the collection and storing that material for future use," Little said.

The use of ACE Glass has expanded beyond residential areas and into the private sector. Jonathan Looney is the owner of O'Looney's Wine and Liquor. He says he discussed a potential glass drop-off location at his business with Little after the city announced glass pickup would be discontinued.

"I said to him 'Hey, is there any way we could do it because wouldn't it be great if we sold people wine and they took it home and then the next time they came back they brought glass and then they came inside and bought wine, and then they went home.' And we sell spirits as well, and there's just all this glass," Looney said.

O'Looney's set out its ACE Glass collection bin on April 1, the same day the city stopped its service.

ACE Glass has a total of 18 drop off stations around the area including ones in Jacksonville and Bryant. However, it does not have a complete monopoly. The Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District has established Green Stations that accept not only glass, but materials such as used antifreeze, pesticides in original packaging and e-waste like phones and microwaves. There is one station each in Little Rock, North Little Rock and Sherwood as well as ones in Maumelle and Jacksonville.

Resident Steve Shepherd uses the ACE Glass drop off containers at O'Looney's and at the Edwards Food Giant off of Cantrell instead of paying for glass pickup.

"I just thought that $10 a month was more than I was willing to do. Now if the containers weren't convenient and that was the only option, then maybe I would've done the $10," Shepherd said. "But I figured we can handle this and at some point, maybe the demand will be great enough that it can be justified for either the city or some other company to do the pickups as we did in the past."

Though she says it is tempting to discontinue her pickup service, since there are more drop-off stations available, Green says she probably will continue paying the yearly fee.

"I know myself and time is valuable, so I think I'll probably still do the curbside and I really think ACE needed that. They needed to be able to tell the city 'Hey we have people that actually will do this. You know, they'll pay for us to pick up their glass,'" Green said.