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Missoula Companies Provide Glass Recycling Despite Obstacles

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MISSOULA - Recycling glass is a practice dating back to colonial times and is a wide-spread policy throughout the country and world.

In the Big Sky state, the routine, process, and utilization remain ideas of the future.

Still, many in the Missoula Valley are eager to keep their part of the nearly 50 tons of glass consumed by Montanans annually out of the dump and put it to a better use.

"When it's broken down it's inert, so it doesn't really leech out or do anything to the environment. So people are like 'we'll throw it away it's just like a rock' but what it does is it adds volume," explains i.e. Recycling owner, Martin NoRunner.

Keeping open country from being spotted with landfills is what drove NoRunner to start his own curbside recycling service, called Intergenerational Equity Recycling, in 2010.

But what set's i.e. apart from other curbside services? They'll gladly take your glass.

"There's definitely the want to recycle from Missoula, glass specifically, as well as all recyclable materials. "

NoRunner taps into Missoulians desire to keep glass, a 100% recyclable material, out of the landfills.

NoRunner's glass is picked up from residences and businesses and stored at the Rocky Mountain Rail Yard, where he planned to pulverize it, load it into train cars, and ship it the Coors factory in Colorado.

That was until weeks ago when a recycling company in Livingston that did the same thing had to shut down, leaving NoRunner with tons of glass and few solutions.

"Now we're up the creek without a paddle," NoRunner says. "The best use for it would be locally. We have a pulverizer, which we have been pulverizing glass since 2012, but there's no market in Missoula or really the Montana area where people want to use it as an aggregate to replace gravel."

Commonly, pulverized glass is used as an aggregate, to replace gravel and be used for paving roads and filling potholes.

The Department of Environmental Quality says the cost of shipping glass and not having bottling plants close to Montana are two factors that push glass into the aggregate market as a low value commodity, meaning to businesses and city departments, gravel is a more cost-effective option.

But one of i.e Recycling's partners, Bayern Brewery, suggests re-using glass locally goes beyond aggregates and infrastructures.

"We decided to recycle and use glass bottles. We also return 6-pack carriers and cases from our distributors. We're taking a technology and a thought process going on pretty much all over the world right now and we're trying to implement it in Montana," says Jared Spiker, Marketing and Communications Director for Bayern Brewery.

For years, Spiker says the brewery has collected bottles with the idea of cutting down on their customers waste, becoming more sustainable, and keeping money in the hands of Montanans.

"The way we kind of look at it here at Bayern is we buy this glass and that money is being spent with a glass company out of state. But 80% of Bayern is consumed within Montana, so that means Montanans are paying for it and we want to put the money that this glass costs back in the hands of the Montanans that are actually consuming this glass," Spiker says.

Bayern collects brown glass bottles no matter what brewery or company they came from, as long as they fit a certain size, and are free of chips and design.

They also run the bottles through a high pressure washer that's the only one of its type in the country.

The end result? About 60% of their glass is re-used.

"We look at the 50,000 bottles a week that we bottle, if we don't do something that's going to wind up in our backyards."

The brewery hopes that grows beyond their tap room.

"A goal for us, we would like to be taking in more glass than we actually re-use which would allow us to then give other breweries the same glass that we use since every Montana beer company uses the same glass. We would like to then provide other Montana breweries with the same glass we're using in our same operation," Spiker says.

Bayern pays five cents for every bottle returned and 10 cents for every six-pack.

Spiker says they take in about 250 cases of returned bottles a week and the drop off hours are the same as the brewery hours, 12 p.m.- 8 p.m. every day of the week.



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