Glass Recycling 101: Jars, Glass Cups and Wine Bottles
The United States produces more than 10 million tons of glass each year, and most of it is made into food and beverage containers like jam jars and wine bottles. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about a quarter of the glass produced in this country is recycled.
The nearly 7 million tons of glass that were dumped in landfills in 2015 accounted for 5.1% of all municipal solid waste sent to landfills that year. As individual consumers, we can have a big impact on reducing that glass waste if we improve our recycling habits.
According to the Glass Packaging Institute, glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without ever experiencing a loss in quality. For every ton of glass the United States is able to recycle, more than a ton of natural resources is conserved, saving the country's supply of sand, soda ash, and limestone.
Recycled glass can make more than just new bottles. Construction firms have found applications for it in new building materials and even in asphalt for paving and repairing roads.
The economic upside to glass recycling can be huge as well. The GPI estimated that energy costs drop 2% to 3% for every 10% of glass cullet (used glass broken down for recycling) that's included in the manufacturing process. And the Container Recycling Institute found in a 2011 study that recycling 1,000 tons of glass creates approximately eight jobs.
It's clear that recycling glass is a smart thing to do. But how can you make sure that you're disposing of your glass the right way?
Know the Recycling Model in Your Area
In many locations, glass bottles for milk, beer and wine, or other drinks go into the same recycling bin for curbside collection as paper, cardboard, and plastics. This is called single-stream recycling. One truck will pick all of the recyclables up and transport them to a materials recovery facility, where all of the items are sorted.
There are other recycling models, however, which can enable consumers to recycle more glass. In a dual-stream model, recyclable paper such as newspaper and cardboard is separated from food containers (such as jam jars, wine bottles, or aluminum cans), and the recycling truck picks them both up but keeps them separate on the ride to the recycling facility.
Know What Can't Be Recycled
In general, don't try to use your curbside service to dispose of types of glass that may contain chemicals that pose harm to recycling employees or the glass recycling process. That includes:
- Windows and mirrors
- Windshields or other automotive glass
- Pyrex or other treated glass storage containers
- Light bulbs
Always check with your municipality or your waste management provider for specific instructions on recycling or disposing of this kind of glass.
Prepare Your Glass for Collection
Rinse your glass containers before you put them in the recycling bin in order to avoid food contamination, foul odors, and attracting bugs. Remove everything that isn't glass, including bottle lids and wine corks.
Sort Your Glass as Much as Possible
If your municipality offers a dual-stream recycling model, keep your glass bottles and containers separated from other food containers and paper. Some recyclers require you to separate glass bottles by color to avoid unwanted mixing during the recycling process.
Deal With Broken Glass
Most waste handlers in the United States won't accept broken glass in their recycling programs because of the potential harm it poses to their employees, but some recyclers are able to handle it. Check with your local service provider.
You could also search your area for local manufacturers that take broken glass to be used in building materials. But most often, you'll need to dispose of broken glass by wrapping it in layers of thick paper and putting it in the garbage.
Find the Right Glass Recycling Facilities
If you need to find a drop-off point or materials recovery facility for your collected and sorted glass, consult your garbage hauler or the Glass Recycling Coalition for assistance.
Additional Glass Recycling Resources