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
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.