By Maggie Wehri
Americans recycle just over one-quarter of the glass they consume every year. That figure needs to rise.
For centuries glass was known to be a universal packaging material for commodities like a cold beer to the finest-smelling perfume. Glass is one of the few materials that can be tossed in the recycling stream time and time again while maintaining quality and strength.
According to the EPA, “Americans generated 11.6 million tons of glass in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream in 2012.” However, according to this statistic, only 28% of the glass was actually recovered for recycling and the remainder (we can only assume) was left to the landfills.
Glass, especially food and beverage containers, can be recycled again and again to create more containers. In fact, the EPA states that 90% of recycled glass is used to make new containers or even be reused in applications like kitchen tiles, countertops and wall insulations. So, the big question is: Why are we not recycling more glass?
Glass collection starts at the curbside, however, not all municipalities collect all the various colors and types of glass. Therefore, many citizens either find alternative programs or just toss the unwanted glass in the trash. All the glass that ends up in the trash not only takes up more space in the landfill, but also is a waste of our energy and resources.
If the glass is lucky enough to make it to the recycling facility, it will be turned into recycled crushed glass known as cullet. Many glass manufacturers rely on this material to supplement precious raw materials. The EPA states, “manufacturers mix sand, soda ash, limestone, and cullet; heat the mixture to a temperature of 2,600 to 2,800 degrees F and mold it into the desired shape.”
Utilizing cullet not only helps the environment, but also saves money because cullet costs less than using raw materials. So, first, there is an incentive for manufactures to follow through on their environmental and economic duties by recycling their glass products. Second, cullet prolongs furnace life and saves energy since it melts at a lower temperature than other raw materials. Finally, less energy used means reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, both environmentally harmful greenhouse gases. In turn, melting these recycled materials helps stop the depletion of our precious ozone layer.
Glass-container manufactures need a steady supply of cullet to create their products and support the growing demand for quality. High-quality cullet is of the utmost importance, as it yields stronger products and contains few contaminants.
Knowing how useful recycled glass can be for the environment and manufacturers, it’s a wonder why so many are still not recycling their glass. While manufacturing and design technologies continue to advance, let’s hope one day we can recycle almost all glass directly from our curb. In the meantime, utilize your curbside glass program if you have it, and if that’s not the case, make the extra trip to a drop-off site