HAMPTON — The uncertain future of glass as a recyclable has the town re-examining its glass collection policy, and selectmen say the town's many bars that go through much glass could be impacted.
Collection of glass is being discontinued by recycling companies around the country in the wake of China no longer receiving the nation’s recyclables. When Town Manager Fred Welch told the members of the Board of Selectmen on Monday they need to prepare for their own recycling company to do the same, the members noted bar owners were among the town’s biggest glass contributors.
"The reality is, it's the bars," said Selectman Jim Waddell, to which Welch replied, "That's where most of it comes from."
The board will meet in the coming weeks with public works officials about alternatives to putting the glass in the trash, which would be costly for the town since glass is heavy and trash collection is charged by the ton. They then plan to hold a public hearing so bar owners can weigh in on a potential solution, which selectmen believe could be having glass brought to a future glass crusher owned by the town.
"We don't have the equipment to pick it up," Welch said. "It's a problem."
Hampton bar owners say they also don't have the equipment to transport the amount of glass that accumulates night after night as patrons enjoy beverages in glass bottles. Shane Pine, who owns the Community Oven and Shane's Texas Pit, said he goes through so much glass he would have to buy a new vehicle to transport it – a cost he said would be inconvenient.
"Those big green bins, when they're full, they're heavy," Pine said. "It's not something I can conveniently say, 'Oh, I'm going to take this in the back of my car and take this to the recycling center.'"
Al Fleury, who owners Wally's, the Goat and Bernie's Beach Bar, said he already pays two people to transport trash to the transfer station when town workers can't pick it all up in one stop. Transporting glass separately, he said, would be "way too much" for his already busy staff.
Communities vary in their trash and recycling policies, but public works officials around the region say they are highly aware of changes to glass and other recyclables since China announced last year it was no longer accepting international recyclables.
"It's a challenge that every community is facing," Portsmouth Director of Public Works Peter Rice said. "We are very aware that things are changing every day."
The city of Portsmouth has more than 200 restaurants in total with more seats than its number of residents, which stands at around 22,000.
Rusty Bridle, chairman of the Hampton Board of Selectmen, said the town and business owners are both in a tough situation as international events have forced the glass problem on Hampton. He said the town's ability to pay for any new separate glass pickup is hampered by its financial difficulties. Voters rejected the town's operating budget for the second straight year at Town Meeting Tuesday, leaving Hampton to use the default budget – the previous year's budget with contractually obligated costs added.
"If we get a default budget, we're working on two-year old money," Bridle said in an interview just before Town Meeting results showed the budget failed. "We're already limited in scope of what we can do."
Selectmen are hopeful the rise in the popularity of cans among brewers will help lessen the amount of glass that comes from bars. Alcohol industry leaders say cans have overtaken glass as the popular vessel for craft beer, and some bars including the Goat have gone to serving beer exclusively in cans.
Still, Fleury said glass has a place at the bar for certain patrons.
"If I go to Hampton Beach and I sit on the deck in the sun, I want a glass," Fleury said. "There's a reason it's been around."