The Boulder County Recycling Center (BCRC) in 2015 diverted 14,949 tons of glass from the trash. But it couldn't save it all.
A smaller, undisclosed amount of glass collected from the recycling bins of area residents ended up in the landfill, too contaminated to sell to makers of glass products.
But now, each and every pound will head 10 miles up the road, to the state's first facility focused on turning old, broken glass into new, whole bottles.
"We've been waiting on this a long time," said Darla Arians, manager of Boulder County's Resource Conservation Division. "All that glass we weren't able to recover will now go to a place that can use it."
That place is Momentum Recycling, a Salt Lake City-based business that sunk $12 million into a Broomfield operation which officially opened on Wednesday.
A handful of recyclers from all along the Front Range bring their semi-processed glass here, where it will be further cleaned by Momentum's specialty equipment and sold to an end-user.
Boulder County will send 600 to 800 tons each month. Because some of that had to be hauled to landfills at a charge, the recycling center will see a net cash gain of $4,000 per month by instead selling it to Momentum
"It's a great solution to what's been a real problem, which is what to do with glass in a single-stream environment," said Scott Bradley, vice president of the Four Corners region at Waste Management, the nation's largest recycler and now Momentum's biggest supplier of raw material.
Glass comes in to material recovering facilities, or MRFs, along with other recyclable materials. Most MRFs can remove a certain degree of contaminants like paper, but not enough to satisfy glass-product manufacturers that prefer to purchase cleaner virgin materials.
For this reason, the glass processed by MRFs typically fetch low prices per ton, sometimes not even offsetting the cost of handling it. And much of it ends up in landfills.
Only about 6 percent of the glass in Colorado is currently recycled, according to Momentum CEO John Lair.
"Our competition is the landfill," Lair said. "Our competition is people choosing to throw a bottle away rather than (into) a recycling bin."
Waste Management's recycled glass was used primarily to line landfills. Now, it will send 1,800 to 2,000 tons per month to Momentum to be made into beer bottles for the world's largest brewer.
Momentum's two major customers are Rocky Mountain Bottle, based in Wheat Ridge and owned in part by MillerCoors, and Owens-Illinois in Windsor, the nation's largest glass products producer and a major supplier of Anheuser Busch.
Having two buyers nearby is "huge," Lair said, and was the main driver behind Momentum's decision to locate in the area. Even if demand slows from one buyer, with a second customer in close proximity, "we're a lot more likely to be able to move all our finished product."
Rocky Mountain Bottle has already received 3,200 tons of glass from Momentum since light production began in November.
Not all the glass from Momentum will make it into the hands of beer drinkers: About 15 percent of processed glass will go to secondary markets for use in abrasives and water filtration systems.
There isn't a market for those uses in Colorado, but Momentum received a $202,000 grant from the state's public health department to help develop one.
"Single-stream recycling is already well developed here," Lair said. "It was just missing this piece.
"Glass recycling works when you tailor it to the needs of the community."
Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/shayshinecastle
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