How is Glass Recycled?
Understanding the Glass Recycling Process
Though the solid nature of glass may suggest that recycling it is difficult, the opposite is actually true. When you discover just how simple the glass recycling process is, you’ll really appreciate its benefits for the environment and local economies.
Seeing through the glass recycling process
How is it that glass goes from being a beverage container to a computer screen or a glass tabletop? The mysteries of how glass is recycled are revealed here:
- Collection: The glass recycling process begins when you put your used glass bottles and electronics into the recycle bin. It’s important that you do your part. After all, if you choose the trash bin over the recycling container, useable glass ends up in a landfill where it’ll take hundreds of years to break down.
- Cleaning: It’s always preferable to recycle glass that’s been cleaned first. That means rinsing out food containers and sometimes removing paper or plastic labels, depending on your recycling program.
- Separation: Many curbside recycling programs require that you separate different types of glass for recycling. Colored glass should be separated from clear glass, and non-food containers should be set aside for separate recycling facilities (more on these subjects in our separate articles on color glass and the basics of recycling). Some comprehensive recycling programs don’t require you to separate, but you should check with your local recycling pickup office to find out for sure.
- Transport: Whether you have curbside recycling or drop it off at a local collection center, it usually then has to be taken to the recycling facility to be processed.
- Crushing: Once it arrives at the local recycling facility, the glass is sorted and washed again, and things like metal lids and food waste are removed to ensure that it’s in the best condition it can be. It is then sent to a crushing machine where it is broken down into small gravel-like pieces called cullet.
- Contaminant removal: As the cullet travels down a conveyor belt, magnets will remove metals and air current help to remove things like paper labels and other lightweight items to further refine the finished product.
- Melting: Finished cullet is then packaged up and sold to manufacturers as a raw material. It is then taken to a production facility where it is melted down at much lower temperatures than would be required to make glass from raw materials. During the melting phase, any remaining labels are burned off. The melted cullet is then formed into new products just as it would be when the glass was originally formed from sand and limestone.
- Production: Recycled glass can be made into many new products, including fiberglass insulation, ceramic tiles, beach sand, glass for picture frames, sand-blasting material, and even reflective paint for street lines.
Altogether, the whole recycling and re-production process can take as few as 30 days! You can recognize a recycled glass product by the Recycling “G” logo stamped on them. It’s an incredibly simple and cost-effective process compared to many other recycling methods.
1 Recycling "G". (n.d.). Retrieved July 5, 2010, from Glass Packaging Institute: http://www.gpi.org/recycling-g.html