Kennedy Delap

(Missoula Current) Glass recycling is gaining popularity in Missoula.

In 2018, the non-profit Recycling Works became the only business in western Montana to recycle glass. Since then, more than 2.1 million pounds of glass has been recycled, according to the organization.

Glass is 100% recyclable, meaning that it can be recycled infinitely without losing value. In 2018, the U.S produced 12.3 million tons of glass but only 31% was recycled, according to the EPA.

Adam McDonald, Recycling Work’s employee, said glass is more difficult to recycle in rural areas, and in some rural towns it may not be worth the cost and effort. But for Missoula, there was a need and a demand for the service, he said.

One of the challenges with recycling glass is that it is heavy, which makes it expensive to transport. Plus, shards can damage different kinds of equipment.

But Recycle Works combats such issues in two ways. The glass is shipped to a recycling facility in Salt Lake City on a truck that came to Missoula full of boxed packages and, normally, would return empty if not filled with glass. This makes the transportation process not only cheaper, but it also lessens emissions.

Recycle Works also uses old seed bags sourced from western Montana farmers to contain the broken glass in transit.

The carbon footprint and emissions are pretty negligible,” McDonald said, adding that recycling glass is more carbon friendly that making it new. process is also. “It reduces the energy of making new glass by about 40% when using recycled glass.”

In the first year of business, Recycling Works sent one truck to Salt Lake City. During the last two years, it sent 700-thousand pounds a year to Salt Lake City.

Mcdonald said part of the reason Recycling Works has seen growth over the past couple of years is word of mouth. Neighbors and customers help others get involved in the community.

We've grown and gotten larger as an organization and gotten to recycle more. People in Montana have not been used to being able to recycle glass, but there has been a demand for it,” Mcdonald said. 

Recycling works does drop-off events at Imagination Brewing, pick-ups curbside in residential area, and works with businesses in western Montana. Red Lodge, Glacier National Park, and Superior Montana all recycle glass through the business.

Market on Front is one of the several downtown businesses that recycle glass.

Missoula residents dine at Market on Front. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Missoula residents dine at Market on Front. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Ellie Dunsay, assistant manager at Market on Front, helped get the cafe involved in glass recycling last winter. Dunsay and her family are from Missoula and have always recycled glass. The business has a 35-gallon milk container on the curb that anyone can use to drop off glass.

“It’s nice to have a place to take that (glass) if you can't afford it. We’ve got a lot of students nearby who can’t afford the regular programs,” Dunsay said.

Market on Front also has companies that take back glass themselves, like Cool Earth Oatmilk and Back to the Mother. Both companies take the glass back and even offer discounts when customers do.

Lolo resident Maddie Jorden said she started recycling glass in 2022. She first saved glass and took it to the drop off events, but now it's picked up monthly from her home for a $10 fee.

I hope someday that it’s just something that's available everywhere the same way that trash collection is part of just what happens every week,” Jorden said. 

I think at the end of the day, we are kind of just recycling nerds and we do believe in recycling and that it's worth it," added McDonald. Glass is one of the more challenging things and we were up for the challenge. It protects our natural resources, requires less mining of those raw materials and extends our landfill life.”  

Kennedy Delap is a graduate student in journalism at the University of Montana.