Garbage, trash, refuse. You name it, I’ve dealt with it. Solid waste management is the official technical term for garbage collection. I spent 15 years working in the waste management and recycling field.
When I was in college I had aspirations that I would and could save the planet from environmental destruction. I switched majors half way through college to focus on the environment. It was a new program when I entered the field and the term “green industry” had yet to be coined. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Management and Engineering.
In the years since I graduated, the green industry field has boomed. When I first started working in 1991, it was only paid professionals like my-self that thought about plastic recycling and large scale composting. The general public was more than happy to toss out a bag of trash at the curb and hope for the best. People didn’t generally question what happened once their waste left their possession and their curb.
Over the course of my time working in the waste management field, the general public became acutely aware of the notion that the nations landfills were filling up with the detritus of their lives. Landfills were brimming with plastic bags and disposable diapers.
I worked on the roll out of one of the largest curbside recycling collection systems in the world. We collected plastic, paper, and glass from everyday residents. We packaged them up and sold them to industries looking for recycling materials as their raw materials on commodity markets.
Glass is, in theory, one of the easiest materials to recycle. Glass can be melted down and remoulded an infinite number of times as long as it is color stored. Each color of glass has a slightly different melt point temperature. Clear, colorless bottle glass is a prized commodity. As our recycling collection program grew, so did our glass problem. Glass is easy to color sort when it is in large pieces, but it is almost impossible to sort after it is broken into very small, multi-colored, pieces known as cullet.
Glass cullet has next to no commodity value. It’s a by-product of recycling programs. Over the course of my many years of working in the recycling industry, I participated in many experimental tests for cullet glass one of which was adding it to road asphalt.
Currently, one of the uses for cullet glass is in quartz-like kitchen counter top materials. I have a “stone” kitchen counter made with recycled glass. I love the variation of the colors and the environmental sustainability of man-made stone products over granite. I love that I have a little piece of my profession in my kitchen. It’s a constant reminder that, while I might not have saved the world, I did have a positive impact on my local environment.