Glass Recycling in the Southeast

A Report on Material Recovery Facility Activities | Sept. 2020

Study Background

The Southeast Recycling Development Council (SERDC), with support from the Glass Packaging Institute and the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, surveyed the recycling Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in the eleven state SERDC region. Several recycling programs in the Southeast have recently discontinued the acceptance of glass containers in their collection programs, citing restrictions and/or fee increases from the Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) that sort their collected material for marketing. The survey sought to identify the specific challenges leading to the suspensions of glass program acceptance.

For this report, a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) was defined as an operation, public or private, that receives mixed recyclables materials from residential collection programs operating either single or dual stream collection. Some of the MRFs also processed material collected from commercial generation. Operations that processed materials collected solely from the commercial sector were not included. Commercial sources are an important component of the manufacturing material supply, they but are outside the scope of the project. Commercial collections of glass containers for recycling are not impacted by the current program suspension threats.

The potentially diminishing supply of recycled glass, cullet, is of great concern to the glass bottle and fiberglass insulation manufacturers. Their furnaces operate more efficiently and use less fuel with greater amounts of cullet replacing virgin extracted resources. Maintaining this feedstock supply for manufacturing is central to SERDC’s purpose. The glass industry provides 4,720 manufacturing jobs in the Southeast1.

SERDC works closely with the region’s individual state agencies responsible for material management and enjoys a supportive relationship with each. These agencies were key resources to identify all the MRFs in their respective state and provided contact information for nearly all locations. Some of the state responses included any facility, public or private, that had a material handling permit to operate, issued by the state agency. Some of these locations were not actual MRFs, rather several were hauling companies and other service providers, operating under permit from their respective state. Those lists were organized and purged to only include communication with valid residential MRF operators.

Glass use in the Southeast

SERDC has identified 25 glass manufacturers in the region using recycled content from residential recycling sources. These operations provide nearly 5,000 manufacturing jobs and generate over one and a half billion dollars in sales1. Establishing a sustainable supply chain for these many facilities, collection programs and MRF processors is a necessity. Upon evaluation of the results from this survey, glass recycling barriers remain to be addressed.


  • SERDC staff contacted a total of 90 MRFs and received 61 responses to the survey, for a response rate of 68%.
  • Glass is accepted at 50 of 61 that listed their accepted materials list MRFs.
  • Of the 50 that accept glass, eight (8) accept only source separated glass.
  • The majority of MRFs (39) reported accepting glass as a part of single stream.
  • Feedback received: Glass recycling remains problematic for most MRFs, primarily due to equipment damage, contamination in other materials and market value.
  • MRFs are interested in investing in equipment improvements to improve glass recycling.
  • The low market value of glass prohibits many smaller MRFs from accepting in residential mix.

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