Arizona Company Plans to Recycle Glass Into Asphalt

Sat December 13, 2003 - West Edition

TUCSON, AZ (AP) A local supplier of construction materials says it plans to take all of the city’s recycled glass and use it to make asphalt.

City recycling officials are optimistic the plan will work and say it could save Tucson $300,000 a year.

“I really believe we’ll use 100 percent,” said Mike Smith, vice president and general manager of Tucson Ready Mix Inc., which plans to make the asphalt.

“It’s not going to save us any money to speak of. But why not put it in if it’s not costing me money?”

“Glassphalt,” which basically substitutes ground-up glass for sand, won’t puncture tires, backers say, but glassphalt still isn’t allowed on city streets or state highways.

If that changes, glassphalt could offer a possible solution to the bane of recycling programs everywhere. Glass is heavy, expensive to transport and cities usually get a pittance when they sell it on the volatile, global market for recyclables.

Tucson had been sending its recycled glass to Los Angeles, losing about $32 per ton this summer. But in recent months, shipping costs increased to $80 per ton as a glut in the glass market sent its value to zero.

Recycle America, the private firm that processes the contents of the blue barrels and shares in the revenues from selling recyclables, opted to dump the glass at its landfill near Phoenix, at a cost of $28 per ton.

Outraged city politicians ordered a halt to the dumping. It may have made economic sense, they said, but it sent the wrong message to residents, many of whom have been skeptical that recycling is as green and profitable as advocates have claimed.

Landfilling glass wasn’t part of the city’s plan. But losing money on glass was expected.

By weight, glass may account for a quarter of what’s in Tucson residents’ blue barrels, but the program can still make money because other recyclables command handsome prices on the market. Aluminum is worth about $1,000 per ton; some plastics get $200 a ton.