Plastic, paper, metal, and glass. These are the four staples of residential recycling. But how much glass really gets recycled anymore? Not enough.
While glass is probably the Queen of Recyclable material, making that happen is a bit more complicated than simply throwing empty wine bottles in the recycling bin.
Bottles, Jars, and More (Or Less)
Glass is a durable and resilient material that has a seemingly endless lifespan. In fact, according to an article from Chemical & Engineering News,
"Glass can be recycled endlessly by crushing, blending, and melting it together with sand and other starting materials. Doing so benefits manufacturers, the environment, and consumers. Yet each year only one-third of the roughly 10 million metric tons of glass that Americans throw away is recycled."
So, why is that?
Apparently it stems from a combination of factors, but the underlying one is how we actually dispose of waste glass products. Because glass is 100 percent recyclable, it has an unlimited life and can be melted and recycled endlessly to make new glass products with no loss in quality.
If the old glass is clean.
For the sake of comparison, we can look at the glass recovery and recycling rates in Europe. The United States maintains roughly a 33 percent glass-recycling rate compared to 90 percent in Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries. That means almost two-thirds of our glass ends up in landfills.
Unfortunately, this diminishes the raw material that old glass provides for producing new glass.
How New Glass Is Made From Old (The Short Version)
The glass industry mixes a granular material made from crushed bottles and jars called "cullet" with sand, limestone, and other raw materials to manufacture new bottles and jars.
The key ingredients used to make glass are sand , soda ash, and limestone and one kilogram of cullet replaces 1.2 kilograms of these raw materials. In addition, every 10 percent of cullet added to mixture, reduces the furnace energy needed by nearly 3 percent. And lower temperatures extends the furnace life, reduces operating costs and the price of the glass produced.
Cullet added to the feed mixture also improves the quality of the glass since melting cullet doesn’t release gases that can form bubbles in the glass.
Adding cullet to the mix also reduces greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing. It's estimated that for every six metric tons of cullet used in manufacturing glass, one metric ton of CO2 emissions is eliminated.
The biggest problem for U.S. glass makers is that ,
"[T]hey are limited by what recycled material is available to them at a manageable cost. Getting cullet in a clean, furnace-ready form generally requires a lot of processing. And depending on how the US recycles, that processing is done relatively inefficiently compared with what happens in Europe."
Unfortunately, this is a situation that will not be easily remedied as the United States is largely saddled with a single-stream recycling model meaning that residents commingle glass with aluminum, steel cans, plastics, junk mail, cardboard, and other paper products.
People also tend to throw in a lot of things that shouldn’t go in the bin, such as plastic bags, batteries, light bulbs, soiled food containers, used napkins, and what is often referred to as “wish-cycling” materials.
Wish-cycling is the practice of tossing questionable items in the recycling bin, hoping they can be recycled. The problem is that processing this commingled waste is expensive and often not very effective, which results in far less usable glass than could be had.
The Uncertain Future of Glass Recycling
The unfortunate irony is that, despite the incredibly endless capacity for glass to be recycled, the options for doing so are diminishing in the U.S.
An article in The Times from 2019 points out this sad reality,
"There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what can and cannot be recycled, said Jerry Zona, director of recycling and solid waste in Mercer and Lawrence counties. As of Jan. 1, many recycling companies no longer accept glass and certain plastics. Recycling companies are claiming contamination is a major contributor.
Single-stream recycling, or collecting all recyclables in one container, often results in contamination, especially when glass breaks or when people throw dirty containers into their curbside bins. 'Glass is mixed with everything else, and a lot of it breaks and it contaminates plastic and paper and itself,' Zona said. 'Apart from collecting it separately, there aren’t many options for it.'
Thirty years ago, recyclable materials were kept separately. But that costs more money."
The good news is that clean glass is still recyclable and still needed. If you make it a practice to separate your glass bottles and jars you can usually have them recycled successfully.
The folks at earth911 offer these glass recycling tips:
- Do your best to not break glass bottles, as there is no market for recycling broken glass.
- You can leave the label/foil on, but many recyclers will ask you to separate the metal caps. This is partly to ensure that all liquids are removed. Remove all wine corks.
- Don’t worry about non-liquids in the bottle, such as a lime wedge in a beer bottle or bits of cork in a wine bottle.
- Remove any non-containers from your glass recycling, such as Pyrex, glassware, windows, and mirrors. These glass products can’t be recycled with containers.
No More BYOB for Recycling - We Can Take It For You
There is a truly simple and efficient bulk recycling option and that's calling Junk King.
Junk King provides professional junk hauling services to remove any and all of your junk. And this includes anything made with glass and even your excess trash and garbage. We even have the equipment and man power to remove refrigerators and other appliances down small stairways or out through the garage.
Whatever your junk consists of, Junk King can help you get it out of the way.
We provide an eco-friendly junk removal service to help you get rid of any unwanted junk, large trash items, or any old appliances.
Our professional and insured appliance disposal team will show up at your home or office; we call 15 minutes before we arrive on site and we’ll give you a free estimate based on how much room your junk takes up in our truck. You point and we haul your unwanted items into our junk removal trucks, with no hidden fees.
It’s as simple as 1, 2, 3. You make an appointment by booking online above or by calling 1.888.888.JUNK (5865).