Calling All Americans: We Need to Recycle More Glass


Image via: Flickr

Do you have a favorite item to recycle? Personally I enjoy the loud smash every time you drop a giant, glass wine bottle into the bin. Glass makers are also hoping you join team glass and start to recycle a few more bottles. The savings not only mean money in your pocket but also fewer emissions and energy savings. Here's how:One of my favorite things about recycling glass - no confusing numbers to have to deal with. Instead of worrying about whether it can or can't be recycled, with glass it's always a CAN be recycled. Even the different colored glass bottles can't slow you down - as all of them can be recycled. Better yet, the colored glass bottles are great to use for flower vases, art projects or a variety of ways to add extra color to your home. Also, glass bottles don't leach into your food the way plastic does and they can be infinitely recycled, also unlike plastic. But just because you toss glass bottles in the recycling bin doesn't mean that you are free and clear. Recycling glass does have a few do's and don'ts.

Are There Problems with Recycling Glass?

Well one problem is getting high enough quality glass to reuse in new products. When communities mix all glass, plastic and recyclables together (called single-stream recycling), there is a chance the glass will be contaminated and unusable for recycling. Most local-level recycling facilities don't have the technology to properly sort all materials, which allow plastic and other wastes to get into the glass recycling stream. In order to get more glass available for reuse, Glass Recycling Institute has made it a goal the percentage of recycled glass in new glass packaging up to 50% by 2013 and that involves consumer awareness.

Used glass that is going to be broken down and put into new glass bottles is called "cullet" and this glass melts at a lower temperature when it is broken down for reuse. For every additional 10% of recycled glass that is used in the making of new bottles, you save 2.5% in energy costs to make the new glass as opposed to just using raw materials (sand, soda ash and limestone). Plus, that used glass can go from your curb to the recycling facility to the grocery store shelf in under 30 days, says Owens-Illinois' website, a leading maker of glass products.

How Can You Help?
Currently a 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 need for cullet glass overshadows the amount deposited for recycling by over 1 million tons 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. This is why glass recycling rates in the US are anywhere from 15% to 80% depending on the county, with the average rate at 35%. In Europe, the average recycling rate of glass is over 65%. This image shows percentage of waste recycled versus landfilled. Image via: O-I

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! That is a small town running off of the energy savings from recycling glass. Not only does recycling glass in the mix cut down on energy to make glass products, but it also cuts down on emissions of other particulates and toxins produced. According to Paul Smith, Owens-Illinois' "cullet guy" in a recent edition of Resource Recycling Magazine, 'if we were to recycle just 10% more glass here in the US, we would reduce sulfur-oxide emissions by 10%; particulates by 8%; and nitrogen oxide by 4%.'

One option is to talk to your local representative about establishing deposit programs for recycling glass, if your community does not already have one in place. The more, better quality glass that is deposited, the greater likelihood that it can be reused to make new glass items. Second, communities can go back to multi-stream recycling options so that glass is not mixed in with paper and plastic increasing the likelihood that it will be thrown out. This takes a little more effort on our part, but what is the point in sorting recycling if it's all going to end up in the same place because this method is only half-ass. Third, is to make sure bars and restaurants have recycling facilities on site. North Carolina passed a law in 2007 requiring recycling for all Alcohol Beverage Control containers and in that year they collected over 45,000 additional tons of glass.

The final option is to make sure that you do your part to at least recycle your own glass containers. Make sure to take the lids off and rinse them out if you don't have to separate them from other recyclables to make sure they have a better chance of not being thrown out at the recycling facility.
:Resource Recycling Mag :Owens-Illinois
More on Recycling Glass
5 Earth Shattering Reasons to Recycle Glass
Now That's What We Call Recycling: Glass Beaches Coming to Florida
Glass Making: Its Only Getting Greener
Poraver Takes Garbage Glass and Turns it Into Useful Stuff

Tags: North Carolina | Recycling | United States

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