Honky Tonk Glass Recycling

As part of SWANA’s WASTECON in Nashville, TN, Eco Partners Vice President Gary Roe joined a tour of Nashville’s honky tonks to see their glass recycling program in action. Here’s what he learned.

On Monday afternoon, a bus full of WASTECON attendees left the friendly confines of the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center for Lower Broadway Street in Downtown Nashville. We broke into three groups and Sharon Smith, Assistant Director of Metro Nashville Public Works, led my group in a tour of three bars participating in Nashville’s Honky Tonk Glass Recycling program.

Initiated in January of this year, the city program provides two glass bottle pickups per day to the honky tonks in the famous music district downtown. This is in addition to the two trash pickups they already provide. Sharon says the city invested about $400,000 for two new trucks and budgeted $400,000 per year for six additional workers to support the program.

Managers at The Second Fiddle, Layla’s Honky Tonk, and Whiskey Bent Saloon were kind enough to give us an inside look at their business and the nuts and bolts of implementing the program from their perspective. Bars along this section of Broadway typically serve beer only in longneck glass bottles to maintain the “honky tonk” ambience their customers expect. And, they serve a lot of beer. Recycling with this crowd can be a bit of a challenge since, well, they ARE drinking a lot of beer. Sharon says about two thirds of the 6,600 tons of trash generated downtown in 2017 was glass.

Employees regularly empty trash and recycling from the bars into the wheeled 96-gallon bins that line the alley. There is no place for larger dumpsters in the alleys behind the historic buildings. In fact, some alleys are too narrow for even the smaller, rear-load trucks to access. In those areas, public works employees have to walk each bin up to several hundred feet to a point where the alley intersects a street.

The city sends the collected glass to a recycler in Atlanta, Ga. We were fortunate to see both a trash and a glass collection while touring the neighborhood. The workers were patient and happy to answer questions. They don’t usually have much of an audience on their routes. Tour participants received cool “Get Rowdy Recycle” t-shirts to wear when they returned to Lower Broadway to conduct further research on the subject.

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