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Can You Recycle Glass? All About Glass Recycling

Yes, glass is absolutely recyclable. Recycling facilities recycle glass waste, melting it to create new products. The glass industry, and the planet, benefit from recycling glass because they do not have to use raw materials for all products. Also, the recycling process saves energy, unlike the manufacturing process using virgin materials.  

In 2018, the United States of America produced 12.3 million tons of glass products, and the recycled was 3.1 million tons of glass6. The United Kingdom produced over 2.2 million tons of glass waste in 2018 but recycled only 2%7.

However, whereas glass is commonly recycled, some glass items are not recyclable. Let's start by exploring the glass accepted at drop-off centers. 

Types of glass items you can recycle 

Empty glass bottles for recycling
Photo by Meizhi Lang on Unsplash.

Not all glass is recyclable because their composition differs. Glass items suitable for the recycling process are: 

  • Glass food and beverage containers 
  • Cosmetic glass containers 
  • Glass candle jars

Glass food and beverage containers  

You can add food and drink containers made of glass to your recycling bin because they are 100% recyclable. Glass container manufacturers produce these in various shapes, sizes, and designs of bottles and jars. These bottles and jars include wine bottles, mason jars, milk bottles and jars, beer bottles, jam and sauce jars, clear glass bottles and jars, green glass bottles and jars, and brown glass bottles and jars. 

Related: Advantages and disadvantages of glass milk bottles

However, you can't recycle these items when they are dirty. Glass recyclers don't accept them because they can contaminate the recycling process. Also, many don't accept these items if broken because of their potential harm to those handling them.

Some locations have separate glass bottle recycling bins, often shared with aluminum and steel cans. Whereas other curbside glass recycling programs will sort glass bottles and containers from general recycling, it is always best to check with your local council or municipality about the specifics. 

Cosmetic glass containers  

Cosmetic glass packaging is recyclable. However, not all glass recycling companies accept them. They are often not acceptable because of the ability of their contents, which is sometimes oily, to contaminate recycling equipment and other recycled material. 

So, you should thoroughly wash the insides of your glass cosmetic containers before dropping them in the recycling bin. 

Glass candle jars 

Glass candle jars are also very recyclable. However, they are not recyclable when wax residue remains. So, remove the wax residue before dropping it off or packing it up for curbside collection. 

Types of glass you cannot recycle   

Some types of glass are not recyclable because they have unique chemical properties. They also melt at temperatures different from the glass bottles and jars allowed in the recycling bin. 

When recycling facilities combine two different types of glass items with different compositions, fractures and abnormalities can be observed in the new glass containers that are produced. Here are some glass items that can’t go through the glass recycling process: 

  • Window glass
  • Light bulbs
  • Mirror 
  • Drinkware & ceramic dishware
  • Broken 

Window glass 

Glass recyclers do not accept window glass because it is difficult to break and melts at a higher melting point. It requires a lot more energy to recycle than glass jars and bottles. Manufacturers also treat the materials used to produce glass windows with chemicals before heating them up, which can leak during glass recycling and become a problem in recycled, new containers. 

However, this doesn’t mean you cannot recycle window glass; you can’t just add it to the general recycling bins. Frosted glass also falls into this category of non-recyclable glass. 

There are separate recycling plants that handle glass items like window glass, apart from glass bottles and containers. These facilities treat window glass separately and can recycle it into more glass for windows or use it as a bulking agent in cement and concrete production3.

Light bulbs 

Many light bulbs can not be added to the general recycling bins because only specific recycling centers recycle them. Most recycling centers reject light bulbs because separating the glass from other materials used to make them is tedious and rarely cost-effective. 

Mirror  

Mirrors are not recyclable because of the reflective coating that allows us to see our reflections. 

Drinkware & ceramic dishware 

Wine glasses are drinkware that fall under the container glass category. There are two types of glasses: borosilicate glass and soda-lime glass, also known as container glass. Wine glasses are not recyclable because of their high temperature requirements and the addition of additives.  

However, ceramic dishware is recyclable, but many curbside recycling programs won’t accept this type of glassware because of the technicalities involved in processing it. It requires a strong recycling machine to crush it into a cullet (recycled or broken-down glass used for recycling) before using it to produce new containers. 

Broken glass

Broken glass is unacceptable in recycling centers because it is hazardous waste. Broken glass shards can harm those handling them, so they are rejected. 

What are the environmental impacts of improper glass disposal?

Glass bottle waste
Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Like any other waste, glass waste negatively impacts the environment. The production of glass already causes immeasurable damage to the environment. However, improper disposal of glass products causes more harm. We all know plastic takes thousands of years to decompose. Sadly, glass also falls into this category. It takes glass a million years to decompose completely. 

Despite the many benefits of glass recycling, not all glass is recyclable. During the many long years it takes to decompose, glass breaks into small micro and nano-sized fragments. Scientists are wondering about the potential harm of nano-glass particles eroding the environment. 

Nano-glass pollution is more harmful to the environment than macro-sized glass pollution4. Micro and nano-sized glass ends up in the food chain, and marine animals ingest them. The additives and other components used in the production of glass can cause harm to terrestrial and marine animals when they ingest it. Plant roots can also absorb these microglass elements. 

Glass pollution in the environment can lead to land loss, animal habitats, and water contamination.

Benefits of glass recycling

Here are five benefits of glass recycling:

  1. Glass recycling saves energy.
  2. It conserves our natural resources.
  3. Glass recycling reduces air pollution.
  4. It reduces the amount of waste we send to landfills.
  5. Improved air and water quality with less manufacturing. 
  6. It boosts the economy. 

Glass recycling saves energy. 

Glass manufacturers use an exorbitant amount of energy in the glass production process, which involves melting sand, soda ash, limestone, and dolomite at high temperatures. However, recycling reduces the energy that would have been used to produce another glass item from scratch. 

Doesn’t glass recycling require a lot of energy? It does. However, it uses far less energy than the energy used by glass manufacturers to create new glass bottles from new resources.

A joint study by National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Energy Systems Division Argonne National Laboratory stated that recycling glass saves about 13% energy5, while reusing a glass bottle saves a lot more energy and comes with virtually no energy costs.

It conserves our natural resources. 

Another benefit of recycling glass is conserving raw materials. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, for every ton of glass recycled, we save 1,300 pounds of sand, 410 pounds of soda ash, 380 pounds of limestone, and 160 pounds of feldspar.

So, every time we diligently drop off our waste glass in recycling bins, we are potentially saving resources for future generations.

Glass recycling reduces air pollution. 

Glass production produces at least 86 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Much of the CO2 comes from heating the resources to produce glass. Recycling glass can reduce CO2 and other emissions.

We can use crushed glass as the primary material for producing more glass and smelting it in a furnace requires less heat than is needed to create new glass from virgin materials2. Thus lowering the quantity of carbon emitted into the atmosphere.

It reduces the amount of waste we send to landfills.

Glass recycling helps us reduce the quantity of glass waste we send to landfills. Glass bottles don't decompose quickly and share many of the environmental impacts of plastic bottles. It takes over a million years for a glass bottle to decompose.

So, when we dump these wastes into landfills, it doesn’t go anywhere. It just accumulates over time, leading to significant land pollution problems. It takes up all the space meant for other waste products. Recycling helps us mitigate this problem. 

Improved air and water quality with less manufacturing.  

As mentioned earlier, glass recycling reduces the number of harmful gas emissions that enter the atmosphere by 20%1. Thus protecting the atmosphere and keeping it clean. Improved air quality saves us from pollution-related diseases like respiratory problems, heart diseases, and cancer. 

Improved air quality also means the environment is safer, and we are not at risk of experiencing severe global warming. Also, using recycled glass to produce new glass items helps improve our water quality because manufacturers do not need to mine new resources. Mining has significant environmental impacts, and mining these resources to produce glass contaminates our water sources. 

Related: Read more air pollution facts and water pollution facts

It promotes a circular economy. 

Recycling is a major feature of a circular economy. A circular economy is an economy’s model of production and consumption that prioritizes conserving resources by sharing, leasing, recycling, and reusing existing products. It ensures that the lifecycle of products lasts longer. 

Glass recycling promotes a circular economy by reducing waste and pollution. Glass can be recycled endlessly into new bottles and other items, creating more products. And it saves raw materials. It is a closed loop- we manufacture glass, use it for long periods, and recycle it into new products. The cycle continues, creating more job opportunities and supporting the local economy.

How to upcycle glass containers you can’t recycle

Glass Vases
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

The glass recycling process is a way to reduce glass pollution in the environment. However, reusing these items is an excellent thing to do. Upcycling saves more energy and protects the environment than recycling does. Here are some ways you can reuse glass products in your homes:

Glass bottles and jars 

Empty glass bottles and jars with storage space can be reused. You can spice them up by decorating the lid and body of the jar before storing items inside. You can also use a glass bottle or jar as an eco-friendly candle holder. 

If you have a little garden or want to beautify your home, floors with plants, glass jars, and bottles are very suitable as vases. An added advantage is that you can decorate it to suit your taste. Other things you can transform bottles and jars into are:

  1. Lanterns
  2. Pencil holder
  3. Brush holder
  4. Terrarium 
  5. Lotion bottles
  6. Tissue holders

Drinkware

Instead of sending drinking glasses to landfills, you can transform them into candle holders like jars and bottles. You can also use them as cupcake stands, mini lamps, and planters.

For inspiration, check out some of the brands producing recycled glassware that you can shop for. 

Mirrors

Since your local recycling center won’t accept mirrors, turning them into something else is best. If you’re bored with your current mirror, you can make it enjoyable by creating new frames. 

You can create a jeweled mirror frame with beads and shells or design a macrame frame. There are so many designs you can work on; just allow your creativity to flow. Mirror shards can be used as mosaic decoration on your plant pots or walls. You can even paint on the pieces, lighting up your space.  

Conclusion  

Glass is a product that you can recycle endlessly. So, we can reduce glass pollution by recycling glass materials properly. Our environment gains when we use more recycled glass. We can conserve our resources, reduce the emissions of toxic gasses, and reduce pollution. 

Instead of dumping glass at the landfill, you can turn the items into something else in your home. For instance, you can store food in glass jars inside your freezer or use them as candle jars. Remember to follow the recycling rules of your local recycling system. 

1

Aguilar-Jurado MÁ, Gil-Madrona P, Ortega-Dato JF, Zamorano-García D. Effects of an Educational Glass Recycling Program against Environmental Pollution in Spain. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 14;16(24):5108. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16245108. PMID: 31847338; PMCID: PMC6950524.

2

Farzadkia, M., Mahvi, A. H., Norouzian Baghani, A., Sorooshian, A., Delikhoon, M., Sheikhi, R., & Ashournejad, Q. (2021). Municipal solid waste recycling: Impacts on energy savings and air pollutionJournal of the Air & Waste Management Association71(6), 737-753.

3

Šooš, Ľ., Matúš, M., Pokusová, M., Čačko, V., & Bábics, J. (2021). The recycling of waste laminated glass through decomposition technologiesRecycling6(2), 26.

4

Sonu Kumari, Swati Agarwal, Suphiya Khan, Micro/nano glass pollution as an emerging pollutant in near future, Journal of Hazardous Materials Advances, Volume 6, 2022, 100063, ISSN 2772-4166

5

Gaines, L. L., & Mintz, M. M. (1994, March). Energy implications of Glass -Container Recycling (PDF). 1–58.

6

Glass: Material-Specific Data | US EPA. (2017, September 7). US EPA.

7

Official Statistics. UK statistics on waste, Updated 11 May 2022. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Joe Dudeck on Unsplash
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