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Missoula nonprofit aims to grow its glass recycling service
Recycling Works | MISSOULA

Missoula nonprofit aims to grow its glass recycling service

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Missoula, an environmentally conscious community, has always struggled with one facet: glass recycling.

Recycling Works, a nonprofit paid pick-up service, is pushing for a way to make it viable. The venture, which started last year, is raising money to build western Montana's first dedicated glass transfer station, which they plan to open in a month.

The service falls under the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, a group of 32 faith communities, businesses and organizations, whose primary issues are homelessness and housing. Any profits from recycling go toward that work, including Family Promise, which houses homeless families.

Gesturing toward the landfill, volunteer executive director Ted Geilen said their goal is to "reduce the amount of stuff we dump on those mountains, and to raise money for homeless families."

They're currently running an online campaign for the station, with a goal of $5,000 and an end date of July 29. It's simple — a large concrete structure that will allow them to store 150,000 pounds of glass. It's then shipped to Salt Lake City, and can be reused as bottles or crushed into sand for a variety of uses. The volume is key to growing their service.

"The more people we have, the cheaper it will get," said Sarah Nesci, the operations manager.

The "cost" part is important, too, and often misunderstood, since people are used to the idea that they can get a few cents back for a can, Nesci said. They hold drop-off events and people often expect to get money in return instead of paying.

Other times, people might assume that curbside recycling in other cities is free.

"It always costs," Geilen said. "A lot of people from Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, they say it's free. Is it free? It's no more free than the police, or the fire (department). They pay for it through their taxes. We have a direct model," Geilen said.

They're going to buy a hydraulic trailer that will speed up their work, lower their costs and enable them to start serving the commercial market, such as bars and restaurants.

Until 2016, Target accepted glass, aluminum and plastic for recycling at their Montana locations, including Missoula. The material was then taken out of state to be processed. However, people put lids and other non-recyclable items in the bins. Subsequently, an entire dumpster would have to be taken to the landfill, since "you can't send somebody in to a thing filled with slippery broken glass" to pull out the other items, Geilen said.

Geilen said Target's was a noble effort to help the community and "they did everything they could."

For that reason, Recycling Works is modeled on a direct, curbside pick-up, without a public drop-off point, the feature that soured Target's attempt.

Elsewhere in the community, Bayern Brewing has a bottle-washing machine that allows it to recycle empties returned by customers. Restrictions on the type of glass are listed at bayernbrewery.com/sustainability.

Recycling Works, which debuted last October, took over the reins from the I.E. Recycling business. As they started out, Axmen Recycling has been "foundational," since it donated land to use for nine months, Geilen said

They have 225 clients around the area, including residences up Grant Creek and Miller Creek. Businesses and nonprofits have signed up, and church communities pool their recycling as well.

The cost varies by the size of the recycling bucket you sign up for. They pick up glass monthly, and also offer a weekly compost pick-up.

They recently partnered with the Good Food Store to recycle glass used in its eating area. Nesci said they pick up about 100 gallons a week so far.

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