Recycling Glass

Recycling Glass

Glass Container w/ Air Tight Stainless Steel Lid

What is Glass?

Glass is made by heating silica – usually in the form of sand – with lime and soda. As the mixture cools, it can be shaped. Other elements, like cobalt or sulfur, are added to create color. Glass has been around for thousands of years. Naturally occurring glass from lightning and volcanoes was used for tool making during the Stone Age, and manufactured glass first appeared in Egypt around 3000 BCE. Today, glass is used for a wide range of home products, including windows, bottles, light fixtures, and kitchenware, and is also important in optics and electronics.

Because of its density, glass makes up a high percentage of household waste by weight. It is also non-biodegradable: it is estimated glass in landfills will take hundreds of thousands of years to decompose. For this reason, the best way to dispose of glass is to recycle it. In 2010, Americans threw away 11.5 million tons of glass, only 27% of which was recycled. California is an exception to this trend – their bottle deposit program has led to a glass recycling level of nearly 80%.

Recycling Glass

Unlike paper and plastic, glass can be recycled indefinitely with very little loss of quality. The glass is sorted, cleaned, and crushed into small pieces called cullet, which is then melted down and reformed into new glass products. Because recycled glass is indistinguishable from new glass, household bottles and jars can be turned back into the same products. Recycled glass of lower quality is used to make fiberglass insulation, countertops, and other construction materials. As of 2012, around half of the glass produced worldwide will have come from recycled materials, which will keep around 120,000 pounds of glass out of landfills every month.

Another advantage to recycling is that cullet melts at a lower temperature than is required to make new glass, which conserves energy. In fact, it takes 30% less energy to make glass from crushed, used glass than from new materials, and the energy saved from recycling just one glass bottle can run a 100 watt light bulb for four hours.

What Can You Do?

Almost all types of common household glass are easily recycled. Clean and sorted food and beverage containers can be taken to any recycling center. Keep in mind that glass maintains its color during the recycling process, so it’s important to sort clear, green, and amber glass if your local center requires it. It’s also difficult to sort broken glass, so be careful when handling your recycling. There are some types of glass that are harder to recycle: most centers will not take windows, mirrors, light bulbs, baking dishes, glassware, or tinted glass, but check with your local recycling program to find out what’s accepted in your area. You can also help by supporting local bars and restaurants that recycle glass.

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