In Fairfax, Virginia, responsible citizenry is helping the county sustain its beautiful environment. And a glass bottle inside a special container, rather than a casual wastebasket, is all it takes.

As of October 1st, people stopped putting their empty bottles and jars in curbside bins as per the county’s new recycling program. Instead, they had to carry all the glass they didn’t want at their homes to a purple, glass-only container if they still wished to repurpose them for a good cause. The authorities had already placed about a dozen of those containers across the region but were still a bit skeptical if as many people would go all the lengths to participate. After all, there was a more convenient trashcan in every kitchen.

Against the odds, however, more and more Fairfaxers chose to do the right thing. And in just two months after the launch of the program, they have helped collect an astounding 3 million pounds (over 1300 tons) of glass.

Beautifully surprised, the county staff now had to work more to meet that high participation.

“We started out thinking we could pick our roll-off glass containers up once a month, and now we have some on a twice-a-week cycle,” said Eric Forbes, director of recycling, engineering and environmental compliance for the Fairfax County Solid Waste Management Program. “Before, all that glass basically ended up in the waste stream, even though it was going in the recycle bin.”

Recycling Magic 

According to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, it is possible to recycle glass endlessly “with no loss in quality or purity.” And for every ton of glass the authorities manage to recycle, they actually are saving a ton of raw materials.

A long-time mainstay for curbside recycling bins in Fairfax, glass is however very problematic for single stream recycling. It is heavy and expands the cost of transporting recyclables to the material recovery facilities (MRFs). It also often breaks during collection/transportation and the abrasive broken glass damages the machinery at the MRFs while contaminating bales of other more valuable items such as cardboard and metals in the process.

In Fairfax, some of those scrap bottles and jars are now turning into new glass containers. The rest becomes useful as bedding and fill material under and around pipes.

The county has already had to increase the number of its glass-only containers and the county administration plans to have even more drop-off locations in anticipation of further public interest in the program. City of Alexandria, Prince William County and Arlington County also have similar programs in place as part of strategic partnership. They, too, use the same purple containers to also raise awareness across Northern Virginia.