Start talking recycling, and most people get a little confused, and it’s really no surprise. For most people, recycling means worrying about whether or not the item they have in their hand goes in the recycle bin (and possibly which of several bins it should go into), or into the trash bin. With so many different types of plastic and other materials, the confusion is no surprise…
So let’s talk about recycling glass.Glass is a totally different subject. From its very start, glass is an inherently “green” product. It’s made from raw, natural materials and is infinitely recyclable, with no loss of quality or purity. In that, it’s a rather unique product!
Recycling glass is something of a no-brainer, or it should be. Every ton of glass recycled conserves 1,300 pounds of sand, 410 pounds of soda ash, 380 pounds of limestone and 160 pounds of feldspar. Energy costs drop 2-3% for every 10% cullet used. Recycling glass reduces carbon dioxide and particulate emissions and preserves furnace life. It’s also a closed-loop system, producing no additional waste or by products. It’s possible for a glass container to go from recycling bin to store shelves in as little as 30 days. Recycling just one glass bottle conserves enough energy to power your computer for 30 minutes, or a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.
A Glass Fact (or two)
- Over a ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of glass recycled.
- One ton of carbon dioxide is reduced for every six tons of recycled container glass used in the manufacturing process.
- There are 48 glass manufacturing plants operating in 22 states. Approximately 76 cullet, or recycled glass, processors are in 31 states. On average, a typical glass processing facility can handle 20 tons of color-sorted glass per hour.
- The glass capture rates for single-stream recycling may only reach 30%; it’s almost 100% for drop-off recycling.
- Recycled glass is substituted for up to 70% of raw materials. Manufacturers benefit from recycling in several ways—it reduces emissions and consumption of raw materials, extends the life of plant equipment, such as furnaces, and saves energy.
- Recycling 1,000 tons of glass creates slightly over 8 jobs. (Source: 2011 Container Recycling Institute).
OK, so recycling glass makes sense. But what everyone really wants to know is will it be as big of a challenge as plastic? The short answer is no. Here’s why:
Generally speaking, any glass container for food or beverages can be recycled. The only exceptions are things like window glass, ovenware, Pyrex, crystal, etc. All of which have a different manufacturing process that makes them unsuitable for recycling back into containers. So it’s as simple as following your communities’ guidelines for glass – either drop it in the single-stream bin, the glass bin, or into a color matched bin. No worrying about numbers.
What happens to recycled glass?
Most of it is going to be transformed back into something very similar to what it was in the first place. Bottle-to-bottle recycling is the most frequent and best use of recycled glass. Glass that does not meet the standards for container manufacturing, glass that contains too many contaminants for container use, and some non-container glass, is destined for other uses.
Like what? Oh, like landscaping materials, fiberglass insulation, decorative tiles, abrasive materials, roadbed aggregate, or marbles and beads – including those used in reflective highway paint.
So, what’s the down side?
For every pro, there’s got to be a con and with glass it’s an easy one to “fix.” Glass recycling is fairly sensitive to contaminants, but it’s super easy to take steps to prevent contamination. The easiest definition to remember is “anything that is not container glass” should not go in with glass recycling. Common contaminants:
Dishware, porcelain, pottery, Pyrex, mirror glass, laboratory glass, light bulbs, crystal and window glass.
Container lids or seals are the most common.
Include paper, wood, food debris, plants, some plastics and any material composed of hydrocarbons.
- Other inorganics
Include bricks, concrete, stones, and even dirt or dust.
- Hazardous and Toxic
Hazardous or toxic elements should never be introduced into the recycling stream.
And if all of that isn’t reason enough to recycle glass containers, there’s one really big reason: glass does not decompose. So the next time you go to toss glass into the trash, opt for the recycle bin instead. And while you’re at it, take a look at some really great recycled glass products, like these, and turn trash into treasure.