Recycling Glass Products
Glass containers often used for liquids, such as soda or beer, are some of the most common items that are collected by curbside recycling programs next to plastic bottles and aluminum cans. I'm sure you've heard that glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled again and again. It is also the most complicated material to process as it is heavy, has a low commodity value and breaks easily through the process potentially causing harm to equipment and staff. Just like plastic, not all glass is made the same and only certain types of glass products can be recycled depending on the area you live in. Compared to new glass containers, recycled glass reduces air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent. Recycling glass containers also helps reduce raw materials, waste in landfills, and disposal costs. Surprisingly, the recycling rate for glass in the United States is only 34 percent. To compare, the recycle rate for aluminum cans is 67 percent.
What Glass Products Cannot Be Recycled and What Can I Do?
All glass being able to be treated the same for recycling is a large misconception in curbside recycling. Instead of going over what type of glass can be recycled, it's easier to list the things that can't. Depending on your area, what can and can't be recycled is different but typically glass beverage bottles and jars are able to be recycled. Because the composition for different glass products vary, the ways to dispose of them do as well. Things added to the composition change the melting point for glass. The glass that is most often recycled such as glass bottles and jars, have a common melting point which makes it easier for facilities to recycle them together and making them more accepted for recycling programs.
Compared to other forms of recycling, glass recycling is less common because the composition for glass is mainly sand which has a higher supply than metal or oil. A lot of the glass recycled is also downcycled. This means that it is broken down and made into lower quality materials. Glass gets downcycled into things such as tiles or shingles where using recycled materials can sometimes be cheaper. Glass is also more prone to breaking during transportation from a recycling facility to it's final destination. The following glass items can't be recycled:
Kitchen glassware such as glass cups and wine glasses are not likely to be recycled by your local recycling program. This is because manufacturers add other materials to it so that it may meet its intended purpose. Kitchen glassware has a higher melting point than bottles or jars which makes them harder to recycle. They potentially can contaminate an entire batch if mixed in with other types of glass, because of its melting point. Unfortunately, there are no recycling programs for these items as the lifespan is long and the volume of this type of glassware is low. Making it hard for recycling facilities to justify the costs of separating the material.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CFLs, fluorescent bulbs, and other bulbs contain mercury, which is a hazardous material. Mercury is a metal that is toxic and can be released into the atmosphere if a bulb breaks in a landfill. Almost every part of the lightbulb is recyclable from the glass to metal to other materials. While they cannot be placed in curbside pickup, it is strongly encouraged to look at your local recycling programs to see what options they have for lightbulbs. Some communities have recycling drives for items such as these once a year which means you will have to hold onto your old lightbulbs until then, while others might have it throughout the year. Local retailers and hardware stores such as Home Depot, Ikea, and Lowes also offer recycling programs for lightbulbs and other hazardous waste. Some light bulbs such as LEDs and incandescent bulbs do not contain mercury, but might not be recycled because the cost of collection does not justify the cost of recycling the glass.
Windows are treated glass which means they were manufactured with chemicals that make them stronger and much harder to break than container glass. This type of glass requires a higher temperature to melt than regular recyclable glass. It is true that they can be recycled if the entire batch was treated glass, but most recycling facilities do not have the equipment to take treated glass. There are some companies, such as SolarWindow, that turn old windows into solar panels. The problem with that is most people only want to replace windows after they are broken and the solar panels can't be made with broken glass.
Mirrors are hard to recycle because of the reflective paint on the back on the glass which makes recycling them almost impossible. Mirrors are another type of glass that has a different melting point than regularly recycled glass bottles and containers. Local antique shops, vendors, or secondhand stores may take old or unwanted mirrors which is better than throwing them out with regular trash. Broken mirrors can be reused for fun and creative crafts. There are a lot of guides on the internet showing you what kind of projects can be done with broken mirrors such as mosaics or wind chimes. If a mirror was broken into large pieces, it is possible that they can be cut and put into a frame to create a smaller mirror. If you are unable to use the broken mirror, there are some non-profit organizations that sell craft supplies and might take it from you.
Recycle Nation gives a good example on why treated glass cannot be recycled with regular recyclable glass containers. Their example is to imagine melting crayons and Styrofoam together. These two items have two completely different melting points. Crayons would melt first while the Styrofoam pieces would still be whole. This would not work because now the crayon has pieces of Styrofoam ruining it because now there are lumps of garbage in the crayon.
There are more eyeglasses today than people in the United States when counting sunglasses, prescription glasses and over the counter readers. Eyeglasses last about two years on average before being replaced. Some insurance plans offer free eyeglasses every year but it is better to keep using your old ones if the prescription is the same and they are in good condition. They might be the easiest non-recyclable glass product to get rid of without throwing them away. The best solution for them would be to donate them. Organization's like The Lions Club provide eyeglasses to people in developing countries that need them. Many eyeglass stores collect old or unwanted eyeglasses to donate, so make sure to do a quick search to see if there are any near you.
What to Do With Glass That is Recycled Curbside
Check to make sure your local community does curbside glass recycling. Some cities will only accept glass that is dropped off at a recycling center.
Follow community guidelines to avoid adding items that can potentially contaminate the recycling stream.
Remove caps from glass bottles as it can be included with other metals.
Take wine corks to a re-cork drop off instead of recycling them at the curb.
Rinse bottles and jars to keep them free of insects.
Solid items inside the bottle such as lime wedges do not need to be removed because they will burn off in the facility.
Prevent glass bottles and jars from breaking in your bin so that they are able to be recycled.
Checkout the full in depth glass recycling cheat sheet for more information.
What You Should Do with Broken Glass
Unfortunately, in addition to being dangerous for you, broken glass has little to no recycling value. The best way to get rid of small amount of broken glass is to wrap it in paper or a plastic bag before throwing it away so that sanitation workers are not injured by it. For windows and mirrors, you'll need to schedule a bulk pickup.
If you have glass waste generated from a construction project Alliance Disposal does offer construction dumpster rentals. We offer consistent and reliable service to all of our customers with a variety of dumpster types and sizes so that you can find the best one for your project. Our customer support team is available 7 days a week for support.
What to Do if You Have A Lot of Unwanted Glass
If you have a large amount of unwanted glass, either broken or unbroken, Alliance Disposal can help you. If you have broken glass we can send a roll off dumpster for you to fill and we'll take care of brining it to the correct facility. If you have unbroken glass contact us and we'll help coordinate the most environmentally friendly disposal option. Wether that is sending a truck to pickup the items to be donated or sending the glass to a specialty recycling facility.