Erik Grabowsky

Erik Grabowsky is chief of the Solid Waste Bureau of the Arlington County government’s Department of Environmental Services.

The raw power of economic forces usually wins out over good intentions. And for the Arlington government – whose good intentions are the stuff of legend – a day of real-world reckoning may be on the horizon when it comes to recycling.

The county government appears on the verge of eliminating collection of glass as recyclable material and directing residents to instead dump it in their regular trash bins.

Why? Because market forces and the nitty-gritty of recycling-plant operations are conspiring against continuation.

At the present time, recycling glass “makes really no economic sense,” said Erik Grabowsky, chief of the Solid Waste Bureau of the county government’s Department of Environmental Services, in a briefing to County Board members.

Currently, it costs the Arlington government $43 (and change) for every ton of trash that it sends to be burned. While it costs $72 per ton to dispose of recyclables, the government gets back rebates from processors based on the value of the materials being recycled.

But currently, there is a “negative market value” for glass, County Manager Mark Schwartz told board members, and because it’s difficult for processors to recycle glass products, most of it ends up being destroyed like regular trash anyway – either to a landfill or to be incinerated.

“There is no light at the end of the tunnel” to see a turnaround, Grabowsky said.

While county officials are first conducting an analysis to look at options, Grabowsky said it was “likely” that glass would be removed from the list of materials that can be recycled.

Most immediately, any policy change would only immediately impact those – mostly single-family residential customers – where the county government hold a monopoly on trash collection. While the county code mandates recycling glass, county officials could leave the measure in place, then inform private firms that collect trash at condos, apartments and commercial buildings that it would no longer be enforced.

At the briefing, Arlington officials held out hope that localities across the Washington region could come together for a coordinated approach to recycling. Currently, “no two jurisdictions are saying the exact same thing the exact same way,” Grabowsky said.

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