Tucson Glass Recycling Upcoming Changes

Tucson Glass Recycling Upcoming Changes

Starting Feb. 1, 2021, glass will no longer be accepted in Tucson’s recycling programs

What does this change mean for someone wanting to recycle glass in Tucson? 

Rather than accepting glass in blue bin recycling, glass will need to be dropped off at one of the twenty “Glass Only” drop off sites that will be located throughout the city. Glass brought to these dropoff sites must be empty, clean and dry, with all lids and caps removed.  Labels can be left on. 

Glass dropped off at these sites will then be brought to a local facility where it will be crushed into sand to be used in sandbags or possibly in some cases as aggregate for construction projects. 

These items will still be accepted in the blue barrel program: 

  • Plastic bottles, jugs, and containers 
  • Paper  
  • Cardboard 
  • Aluminum/steel cans 

But whyyyyyyyyy? 

The short answer is that our previous glass recycling program was costing the city of Tucson half a million dollars a year. 

Tucson was receiving around 5,000 tons of glass recycling annually.  After sorting, some would get transported to Strategic Materials in Phoenix but most was transported to Mexicali where it was used by beverage bottlers.  Processing costs, transportation costs and other costs added up to the glass recycling program costing the city half a million dollars a year to keep running.


The change to the recycling plan will be saving the city of Tucson a lot of money, in processing costs, transportation costs and other costs.  In addition, collecting and processing locally has the additional benefit of reducing carbon emissions from transporting heavy loads of glassware from Tucson to Phoenix to Mexicali.  

Potential Downsides

The most obvious downside is that depending on your location in relation to the twenty dropoff sites, it’s most likely going to be less convenient than being able to place your glass in your same blue bins with the rest of your recyclables.  It’s possible that the added inconvenience could cause more glass to end up in trash bins. In addition, going from designated pickup routes to many individuals making many small trips with smaller loads of glassware most likely in cars seems like it might slightly undermine the carbon emissions saved from transporting glassware to Phoenix and Mexicali. 

Another downside is that this new glass processing requires lids to be removed.  Due to their size and to the fact that a lot of lids and tops are made from plastics not recyclable locally, these lids will now likely have to end up in the trash.  

Finally, the most prominent downside in my eyes is that this new system takes perfectly good glass and pulverizes it into sand.  If we put that sand into bags and use those sand bags in construction, or use the sand itself as aggregate material in construction, technically yes we are “reusing” the glass. But glass is one of the few materials that is 100% recyclable, meaning it can be melted down and made into new glass virtually endlessly with no loss in quality over time.  You definitely can’t do that with plastics; you can’t even do that with most metals.  Glass is special in that way.  Removing glass from this potentially endless cycle of true reuse and instead turning it straight into sand to put into bags just does not feel like a sustainable choice.  There is not much that can be done about this change in the short term, but I can’t help but think that while I can absolutely see the logic behind the decision making process, we could be doing a lot better. 

Glass Reuse Hot Tips:

  • Refill your existing containers rather than buying prepackaged items when possible
  • Reuse glass containers from prepackaged items within your household where it makes sense to do so
  • If you have no use for a glass jar or bottle, bring it to Cero! We use them for transporting bulk products and also have them available for in store shoppers to use and reuse. Just make sure they are clean, functional with fully closing lids, and have the labels removed. 

Just remember after Feb 1st: 

  • Glass cannot be placed in your blue bin recycling
  • It must be dropped off at one of the twenty glass dropoff locations
  • Glass dropped off at these locations must be empty, clean and dry, with lids and caps removed.  Labels may be left on.

Have additional questions?

There are three virtual town halls scheduled regarding the changes in glass recycling: 

Tuesday, Jan. 12 at 5:30 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 15 at 10 a.m.

Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m.

View full information and register for the town halls on the city Glass Reuse Plan webpage. Anyone with questions can email recycle@tucsonaz.gov

View the city of Tucson’s full glass reuse program here: 


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