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December 2004

The Urban Mine - Source of a Huge Renewable Resource

Glass, diverted from the waste stream, is a renewable resource. While usually not processed and stockpiled like sand or stone aggregate at a quarry, it certainly could be. It can be crushed and cleaned or melted and refined like the virgin resources above. Better than sand or stone, glass is a stable, inert material that will not decompose for a million years.

What uses are there for recycled glass sand or aggregate? The same applications that natural materials are put to such as: road building, play sand, landscaping, filter media, drainage media, sandblasting media, etc. In other words, products we use everyday. How can waste glass from curbside programs, container returns, and post-industrial scrap fit into a plan for treating recycled glass like a natural resource?

First, consider the resource recovery plan. Old-time prospectors went to the source. Want stone? Go to the mountains. Want sand? Go to the beach. A glass prospector need only consider the sources of waste glass - households and industry. Find the largest concentration of these and you have an urban mine. In other words, any city will do. Much more convenient than going to the mountains or ocean! And unlike a gold prospector or gravel pit owner, the urban glass miner will never deplete his resource. Instead, it will likely increase with time. This makes waste glass a renewable resource.

If waste glass is a renewable resource that can be processed into new raw materials, then why have the waste and recycling industries traditionally landfilled it? The problem is two-fold. First, these industries have had trouble finding the “gold” in their urban mine. Recyclers collect and separate the glass but they often don’t have room to store the recovered material. If a recycler is lucky, there will be a glass processor close by who will take at least some of the glass. Secondly, the recycler’s earnings come primarily from collecting the waste glass rather than selling it downstream. Recyclers need to think of themselves as quarry operators with large piles of raw material that can be easily processed into a saleable commodity.

However, accommodations must be made to attract customers that are used to doing business with quarries. For instance, tons of material may have to be accumulated to meet the market demands. Often recycling facilities don’t have available land for stockpiling. In this case, they may need to find a quarry, large contractor, or other partner who can manage this renewable resource. One who is willing to accumulate, process, and sell the recycled glass aggregate.

By forging partnerships between the mining/construction, and waste/recycling industries, new, more profitable solutions could be made available to all. This includes the end customer who will ultimately benefit through additional choices in the market.

When will the introductions be made? Who will be the first to make a move? Once done, the traditional aggregate industry will discover an untapped renewable resource and recyclers will quickly realize they hold the keys to the mine. So strike up the music, choose your partners, and let the dance begin. A mine is a terrible thing to waste.


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