Glass Recycling

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021 by Samantha Creadon

Reusing and recycling glass has been around for just about as long as we’ve been using glass to store things. Since the 18th century handmade glass bottles were used to house beer and soda, and as time went on and machines began to mass produce bottles, they were printed with instructions to return to the manufacturer so they could be washed and re-packaged. However, much like recycling programs today- bottle return programs lacked incentive and often lost manufacturers money when the bottles were not returned. By the late 19th century, early 20th century the U.S. introduced the bottle buy-back program that we know today.

            The Great Depression and World War II changed consumption habits in the United States and led to great success with the bottle deposit system, which usually rewarded $0.02 for each returned bottle. Into the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s consumers grew concerned with the lack of bottle returning and a rise in glass bottles littering beaches and highways. As a result, California, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon and Vermont implemented higher paying bottle returns (usually $0.05) which are still active today.

            The introduction of curbside household recycling that we are familiar with today has reduced the popularity of bottle return programs greatly, but as recycling rules change and our ability to reduce contamination in our household recycling stream lessens, recycling centers are moving completely away from recycling glass bottles and jars. The mixed recycling stream the U.S. practices now is much less efficient than European recycling streams, and as a result, glass recycling becomes far more difficult, and far less likely. In order to make glass recycling a viable practice in the U.S. Americans need to either A) get much better at properly recycling- most likely through education programs, or B) shift towards multi-stream recycling that is practiced (very successfully) in places like Germany, Sweden, Spain the United Kingdom, and many more.

            Until changes are made in recycling streams and education, glass bottles thrown in with mixed recycling are considered “wish-cycling” and will most likely end up in the landfill. However, there is one other waste stream for glass bottles that is new and gaining traction.

            Previously considered a “indispensable resource” (just behind air and water) sand is used in a vast number of industries during the manufacturing process- from building construction, glass and plastic manufacturing to the development and manufacturing of electronics. Around 75 million metric tons of sand are removed from beaches and rivers every year for industrial purposes. Between manufacturing and climate-change, coastal erosion is a growing problem globally. In New Zealand, DB Export Beer has developed technology that returns glass bottles to sand. This sand will be able to be used in place of sand extracted for roadway construction, commercial and residential construction, and even golf bunkers. Check out this video to see how the machine works!

            As our sand deposits and coastal regions grow more and more scarce, and our supply of glass bottles with nowhere to be recycled grow larger and larger, grinding bottles down to sand seems like the perfect temporary solution.


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