Breaking It Down: Can You Recycle Glass?

It seems like any easy question; can you recycle glass? I automatically think of empty wine bottles and beer bottles after a get-together with friends, but it is so much more than that.

Until I started focusing on my waste reduction and moving closer to a low-waste lifestyle, I never knew I could recycle all my condiment bottles, olive oil, and pretty well anything in my fridge that was glass, as long as it wasn’t broken, of course. More on this later!

Recycling glass is more than just getting your deposit back on your liquor bottles. Some essential things happen to the environment when glass is recycled.

When recycled glass is repurposed into new glass, it reduces related air pollution by 20% and water-related pollution by 50%. It takes significantly less energy to repurpose glass than to make new glass.

By reducing the amount of waste in landfills, we can create more space and reduce the time it takes for waste to break down, resulting in fewer greenhouse gases.

Can you put glass in the recycling bin? We'll get to that, but first, a little history...

Glass recycling has been around longer than you think. Evidence has shown that the Romans took recycling seriously, and it was discovered that glass fragments were being shipped to the Roman glasshouse to be repurposed.

Fast forward to the 1960s, when the waste problem in the US was exposed, glass recycling became popular as it was offered in many places.

The recycling program had a downside as plastic containers became more popular, making it more convenient for people to use them instead of carrying heavier and bulkier glass storage food containers and water bottles.

While plastic containers are lightweight and convenient for on-the-go use, there is an ongoing debate about whether they are better for the environment than glass. While plastic can be recycled, it can also take hundreds of years to decompose in landfills and can release harmful chemicals in the process.

Glass, on the other hand, is infinitely recyclable and does not release harmful chemicals during decomposition. Additionally, glass is non-porous and does not absorb flavors or odors, making it a better option for plastic-free food storage.

The process of glass recycling 

The process of recycling glass is relatively easy and happens in very few steps. 

Glass is collected and brought separately to a facility that pre-treats the glass to remove any paper or plastic with blown air. Anything metal on the glass is then removed with magnets.

The next step is to sort the glass by color, which is then crushed and moved into a trommel, a revolving screen that further sorts the glass. It then goes into a bed drier which melts the glass. A pulverizer is used next, which reduces the particles further before they are screened again and divided into four grades.

The final product is a glass cullet used to form limitless possibilities for future products. 

When recycling glass, 95% of the materials can be reused, and the possibilities are endless for what to remake the glass into. Glass also does not degrade, which means you can continue to reuse it, which honestly makes it a limitless resource. 

Remember that this process is not what happens at every facility, it is often very similar, but it may not be exactly executed in the steps previously mentioned. 

A bunch of reused glass jars on a white kitchen counter. Photo- The Eco Hub.Pin
Image: The Eco Hub

What glass products can be recycled?

The most common types of glass that can be recycled are: 

  • Bottles of any color can include glass pop bottles, juices, wine, water, beer, spirits, food sauces, and olive oil. 
  • Jars of any color, such as jam, baby food, and condiments. 
  • Cosmetics and perfume
  • Medical supplies such as vials 
  • Food storage containers 

A good rule of thumb regarding what glass you can recycle can be determined by color. Glass that is clear, amber, green, or blue can all be recycled. So, if you’re unsure, use that color guide to help you! 

What kind of glass is not recyclable?

  • Glass cookware like Pyrex 
  • Light bulbs 
  • Window glass 
  • Drinking glasses and vases 
  • Nail polish bottles 
  • Mirrors
  • Glasses for eyesight 
  • Crystal glass 
  • Phone screens 

Is broken glass recyclable?

Broken glass can be recycled, but it must be handled cautiously. Small shards of glass can be dangerous to workers and damage sorting machinery. It's best to put broken glass in a separate container, seal it, and label it as broken glass before disposing it.

Also, remember that not all types of glass can be recycled, such as glass cookware, mirrors, or light bulbs. It's important to check with your local recycling program to see what types of glass they accept.

You can easily search for glass recycling facilities in your area by using search engines like Google or Bing and typing in "glass recycling near me" or checking with your local waste management or recycling center. They may be able to provide you with more specific information and resources for glass recycling in your area.

Benefits of recycling glass 

There are so many benefits to recycling glass. Some of the ones mentioned earlier are the energy and water saved from repurposing glass and the reduction in air pollution and space in landfills… but there are a few more! 

Recycling your glass conserves natural resources. 80% of recycled glass will end up in new glass containers, tiles flooring, countertops, bricks, and pavement, and of course, if you buy recycled glassware, you can find it there too. 

If those points weren’t enough to make you want to recycle glass, don’t forget about the deposit you get back when you take your alcohol bottles to get sorted! 

As for the economic benefit, there are hundreds of jobs created when recycling facilities get a lot of deposits back, and other companies that help consolidate waste, such as glass for bigger corporations that do not have the time, also create tons of jobs.

It also positively impacts the communities and will allow the cities and towns to have cleaner air and less landfill waste.

Candice holding up a glass coffee cup. Photo The Eco Hub. Pin
Image: The Eco Hub

Challenges and limitations of glass recycling 

Some of the biggest challenges of recycling glass are that it can become contaminated, which means that broken glass can get mixed in with other recyclables.

Another challenge is the cost of recycling glass, which seems silly. Still, glass is much heavier than plastic and other recycled items, which causes an increase in taxpayers to have the glass properly taken care of. 

As for the limitations, it all comes down to what you can’t recycle easily, like window glass. This has to be taken to a special place to be recycled and not just thrown in your blue bin. This is another reason why checking with your local center is crucial.

Why is glass no longer recyclable in some places?

Glass is still recyclable, but several factors have made recycling less economically viable. One major issue is that collecting, transporting, and processing glass is more expensive than other materials like plastic or aluminum.

Additionally, there has been a decline in the demand for recycled glass as new manufacturing methods and alternative materials have become more popular. As a result, some recycling programs have stopped accepting glass or reduced the types they accept.

However, many recycling programs and facilities still accept glass, and it is important to continue to recycle glass to reduce waste and conserve resources.

How to recycle glass at home?

  • Rinse the glass container with water to remove any residue.
  • Remove any non-glass materials, such as plastic caps or labels.
  • Sort the glass by color (clear, brown, green), as different colors cannot be mixed.
  • Place the glass in a designated recycling bin or take it to a glass recycling center.
  • Check with your local recycling facility to see if they accept glass and what specific guidelines they have for recycling it.
  • Repeat the process and make it a habit to recycle glass to help reduce waste and protect the environment.

As for the workplace, there are lots of companies that offer their services to help you recycle properly. Those companies are great to use to streamline your efforts and ensure that the glass is properly disposed of.

If you are a smaller-scale business, having designated glass areas and bins can encourage people to recycle better and ensure that everyone in the office is making a conscious effort to recycle. 

A final thought on recycling glass 

Recycling glass is an important step in reducing waste and preserving natural resources. In the U.S. alone, recycling glass saves enough energy to power 30,000 homes annually. It also reduces the amount of waste in landfills and reduces carbon emissions.

Recycling glass is easy and accessible, with many curbside recycling programs accepting glass. By recycling glass at home, we can all positively impact the environment and help create a more sustainable future.

While glass recycling is important, reducing reliance on single-use plastics like Ziploc bags can also significantly impact the environment. By switching to reusable alternatives like glass storage containers or silicone bags, we can reduce the amount of plastic waste in our landfills and oceans.

Americans are estimated to use over 100 billion plastic bags yearly, and only about 9% are recycled. If you found this post helpful, please help someone by sharing this article – Sharing is caring 🙂!


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