Friday, July 23, 2010

G is for Glass

Good old glass…glass has been used for centuries for storing many liquids including medicines, olive oil, wine, and of course foods such as pickles, mason jars full of beets, relishes, tomatoes, berries, etc.  Today, glass is still used for those items, as well as spaghetti sauce, soda, juices, liquors, perfume and much more.   One reason I like glass is that it doesn’t leach into your food the way plastic does and it can be recycled infinitely.  Of course the drawbacks are that it is heavier and more breakable than plastic.  Luckily, glass containers are 40 percent lighter than when they were 20 years ago, and I don’t know about you, but I prefer my food without leached chemical additives.  This is also the reason I prefer to reheat in the microwave with glass/Pryrex instead of plastic.  

Glassmakers have always known about the properties that allow glass to be recycled, but over the years, glass recycling has grown in part due to the increased curbside recycling efforts, and in part due to consumer demand for recycled glass in varying products.  Currently only a small fraction of all glass (especially bottle glass) is actually recycled - something like 2.5 million tons of the 17 million tons of glass in the waste stream is actually reused by bottle makers each year. The US does not mandate the recycling of glass like Europe does, so its up to the individual and industry to make sure the glass gets recycled. While statistics vary on the amount of glass recycled, the EPA reports that 34.5 percent of glass beer and soft drink bottles and 28.1 percent of all glass containers were recycled in 2007.  Today, Americans recycle nearly 13 million glass jars and bottles every day.  But, we can and should do better, and surprisingly there is a greater demand for glass than what is actually recycled; a whopping 1 million tons!

Because glass recycling is not required in the US, recycling rates vary widely, from 15% to 80% depending on the state.  California, boasts a glass-recycling rate near 79 percent.  But what about the glass that is not recycled?  It has been estimated that every month, we throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper.  Those glass bottles and jars would take 4000 years or more to decompose -- and even longer if it's in the landfill.  

If we were to recycle 50% more glass than we are currently recycling here in the US, we would save enough energy to power 45,000 homes for an entire year, which is the size of a small town! Put in another way, the energy saved from recycling just ONE glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours or a compact fluorescent bulb for 20 hours.  A recycled bottle also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.  One thing to note is that while recycling programs will accept glass containers and bottles, they will not take drinking glasses, light bulbs, and Pyrex because they are treated when manufactured and that processing would contaminate the other recyclable glass. 

So, after the glass is collected, what happens to it?  SMAAASH!  The glass is crushed into material called “cullet”.  Then glass manufacturers mix sand, soda ash, limestone, and cullet and heat the mixture to a temperature of 2,600 to 2,800 degrees F.  Then it is molded it into the desired shape. Using cullet saves manufacturers money and helps the environment; cullet is less costly and melts at lower temperatures than raw materials, and as a result, less energy is needed to produce the new glass and that helps reduce greenhouse gases.   As mentioned above, the need for cullet overshadows the amount deposited for recycling by over 1 million tons each year.

Speaking of recycled glass, 90 percent of recycled glass is used to make new bottles and containers, and 10 percent is being made into new and exciting items daily.  There are examples of beautiful recycled glass items everywhere...I couldn't believe how many interesting things are made from recycled glass!  I was in awe at the recycled glass items I found on the internet: beautiful glass beads, glassware, mulch, jewelry, coasters, sun catchers, tumbled glass for fish tanks or vases, drawer pulls, counter tops, spoon rests, soap dishes, tiles, and more.

Beautiful coasters by Aurora Glass
However, one of my favorite sites, has amazingly beautiful, useful gifts which caught my eye.  But it is their noteworthy humanitarian mission that really captured my attention.  The Aurora Glass Foundry is a waste-based business that not only recycles glass, but funds the charitable works of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, OR.  All profits from Aurora are returned to the community in the form of assistance for homeless and low-income people through emergency services, housing, jobs, training, and other charitable endeavors.  In my book, that's about as GREEN as it gets! 



  1. Such a great post! The amount of glass that goes into landfills is distressing. Hopefully more states will follow California's lead and really get tough on glass recycling. In the meantime, it is nice to know that some people out there are finding beautiful ways to use recycled glass.
    -Deb for Ecover

  2. Wanted to let you know that we liked this post so much we posted it on our Facebook page!
    -Deb for Ecover