I’m on a mission to live my greenest life possible, and currently, I’m researching our recycling system with the hopes of improving it. I was pleased to learn that nearly 70% of paper and cardboard gets recycled, but the number is not so good for glass. What’s wrong with the glass recycling system and how can it be improved?
How much glass is recycled?
According to the Glass Recycling Coalition, glass can be recycled over and over without losing quality or purity. Yet less than a third of glass is recycled in the United States. Making new containers from recycled glass can save between 20 – 30% of the energy used to make products from raw materials. Then why isn’t more glass being recycled? There are three main issues that could explain the dismal numbers. First, glass is fragile, unlike plastic and paper products, and dangerous when broken. This makes collection and transportation of the product potentially dangerous. Also, there are few glass processing facilities. Without the proper system in place to transport and recycle the glass, it’s more likely to end up in the landfill. Finally, there is a ton of misinformation regarding recycling in general and what can and cannot go in the recycling bin. These issues make glass recycling difficult and less efficient.
How is glass recycled?
I was surprised to learn that glass can be endlessly recycled without loss of quality. What is the process and does it have a significant impact on the environment? In order to recycle glass, it must first broken up into smaller pieces called cullet before it gets crushed, sorted, cleaned and then prepared to be mixed with other raw materials. It is then melted in a furnace and shaped into molds. Making new products from recycled glass can reduce air pollution up to 20% and water pollution up to 50%. The recycling process is fairly straight-forward. Therefore, it’s mainly a lack of government policy and public education that results in the low numbers. The United States clearly lags behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to recycling glass.
Is recycling glass lucrative?
It’s my goal to one day have my own trash/recycling service where I can process materials on site in my hometown. It made me wonder if there’s any kind of market for glass recycling, or if like much of the recycling industry, it costs more money than it makes. Based on what I’ve read, the complications involved with recycling glass such as the weight and fragility makes it less sought after. In order for this venture to be profitable, there would need to be companies ready to buy the recycled glass. I hope one day I can have my own trash service that covers all raw materials including plastic, but currently, the numbers look bleak. Based on what I’ve read about the glass recycling industry, it has the potential to be a profitable business, but there would need to be buyers ready to go to use the recycled glass, or cullet, for a variety of purposes including for insulation, construction, or new glassware.
Can I upcycle glass products?
If recycling isn’t an option in your area, there are a lot of other ways to use glass products. Mason jars, for instance, are great for food storage. Wine bottles make for a variety of fun projects. And there are plenty of other fun activities that can be done with glass bottles, jars, and other items. My next journey will be to explore some of these upcycling adventures involving glass. Time to get out the gloves and goggles! See you there!