Recycling Glass ExplainedGlass is one of the most versatile and economical of packaging materials when it comes to its recycling credentials. So why does so much still go to landfill?

Glass History

Glass has been used for thousands of years, with the Egyptians mastering the technology of making glass objects at least 3,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Today, little has changed in that the raw materials used for making glass are sand, soda ash, and limestone.

When mixed together in precise quantities and heated to very high temperatures, liquid glass is formed which can be shaped and moulded or ‘blown’ into jars and bottles.

Raw Materials

The raw materials used in glass are inexpensive, abundant, and easy to quarry – and although there is an environmental cost in extracting from the landscape and heating glass furnaces to high degrees, this is partially offset by the fact that glass is able to be infinitely recycled. In addition, for each ton of glass which is recycled, 1.2 tonnes of raw materials can be preserved.

Once made into a jar or bottle etc, there is no limit to how many times glass can be melted down and re-formed, with no deterioration to the integrity or quality of the product. And this is the crucial point. Because for every item of food or drink which comes in non or part recyclable packaging, glass could perhaps have been used.

Recycling Glass

Figures are approximate, but roughly three and a half tonnes of glass is used each year in the UK with something like three quarters of it finding its way into our homes. However, despite the increase in the number of bottle banks available, and the capacity to re-cycle, nearly one and a half million tonnes still goes to landfill. Although this is an improvement (six years ago two and a half tonnes was being land-filled), the figure needs to be drastically reduced.

Glass which gets thrown into the normal trash will automatically get dumped in a landfill site where although it is inert (and therefore doesn’t leach harmful gases or chemicals into the ground), neither will it decompose. This means that we are unnecessarily ruining our landscape with rubbish and new bottles will unnecessarily be manufactured.

Recycling Glass Saves Energy

The manufacture of new glass is highly intensive, involving the combustion of large amounts of fossil fuels. The case for re-cycling glass is that the process can be operated at lower temperatures, thus ‘saving’ energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To put it visually, it’s been estimated that recycling just two bottles will save an equivalent amount of energy to boil water for five cups of tea.

Glass Recycling Targets

Where local authorities implement kerbside collection schemes, the amount of glass being collected for recycling dramatically increases but at present only about 35% of households are specifically able to have their glass collected. However this may improve as the Government attempts to meet new European glass recycling targets which demand a year on year increase in recovery so that by 2009, 80% of glass should be recycled.

One of the factors needing to be addressed is the amount of glass which goes directly to clubs and pubs – and for which there seems to have been no dedicated recycling service. It’s estimated that perhaps up to 600,000 tonnes of glass is used in bars but that 80% of this goes to landfill.

Recycling Your Glass

If you’re not already recycling your glass, why not start now? Here are some tips on how to get started:

  • Save your bottles and take them to the bottle bank each time you go to the supermarket.
  • Rinse your jars and bottles before recycling and remove any corks, lids, or screw caps.
  • Never put light bulbs or Pyrex dishes in with your recycled glass as they have additives which may contaminate the rest of the glass.
  • Separate out the colours of the bottles unless specifically asked not to by your local authority collection service.