Glass is an exceptionally good recycling material. In this post we’ll cover the glass recycling benefits, how it’s done, what types of glass can be recycled and what the eco-advantages are from doing it.
Using recycled glass to make new glass products requires 40 percent less energy than making it from all new materials. – New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation
The recycling process involves collecting, cleaning, crushing, and melting glass products before molding them back into bottles or jars.
Image: Aleksandr Kadykov
Once glass bottles are collected, they are forwarded to a recycling facility where they are sorted according to their constituent materials. The recyclable glass is then shipped to a glass processing plant where it is inspected and sorted to remove contaminants. Afterward, it is crushed and sorted by a mechanized separator according to its color and size.
This cleaned and sorted crushed glass, called “cullet”, is then sold to glass container manufacturers.
Recyclable glass can be melted without using other raw materials. Once ready, it is put into a furnace to be melted. Then it is molded or blown into its intended shape and size. The recycled, like-new glass bottles and jars are sold to companies for food packaging, beverage bottles, or kitchen glassware.
Can all glass be recycled?
Different types of glass have different melting points and composition. While glass is known to be 100% recyclable, this is actually only for regular, soda-lime glass (AKA standard glass). Soda-lime glass is the most commonly used glass for making food jars, kitchen canisters, beverage bottles, condiment containers, and many other products.
There are two other types of glass that are used in the kitchen — borosilicate glass and tempered soda-lime glass.
These two glass types are mostly rejected for recycling. Aside from having a higher melting point, borosilicate and tempered glass are made differently from regular soda-lime glass, which make them not suitable to be mixed with it for recycling.
Although it is possible to recycle borosilicate glass, it is considered uneconomical. According to Rob Lion, Vice President of Engineering for eCullet (a technology-based glass processing company), “The problem is an economic one: there really isn’t enough borosilicate glass being consumed and disposed of to make it worthwhile to design a process to collect, transport, clean, and re-introduce borosilicate glass cullet into the new manufacturing stream. Most borosilicate glass products are designed for a long life of re-use, as opposed to single-use containers like beer and wine bottles or pickle jars.”
There are many environmental benefits to recycling and reusing glass bottles. Recycling glass saves energy because recycling glass takes less than half the energy of producing new glass. Glass has no harmful chemical components, if it’s disposed of or ends up as litter it causes no environmental damage.
New glass is made from four main ingredients: sand, soda ash, limestone, and other natural additives, depending on the type of glass to be made. Unlike with recycling, these elements all have to be quarried, which consumes natural resources and energy for extraction and processing.
Pollution from processing is also much less with recycled glass, including the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions that may contribute to climate change. This emission reduction alone results in a decrease in air pollution by 20% and water pollution by 50%.
The Corning glass recycling facility in Utah is a 100% sustainable facility. The electricity to run the plant comes from wind power and the recycling process emission is simply water vapor. Check out the video below to see how glass is recycled into fiberglass insulation at this facility; it’s fascinating and encouraging!
Recycling glass also helps to reduce the use and disposal of plastic products. Glass is 100% recyclable which makes it more “eco” — economical and eco-friendly. Plastic, on the other hand, can only be down-cycled and in the long run become non-recyclable and destined to end up as a waste in a landfill, or worse in our oceans.