Is glass recyclable? Yes, with some caveats!

  • Date: May 13, 2022

Glass has long been a go-to for people wanting to adopt a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Yes, it takes a lot of natural resources and energy to produce – but a glass item can, potentially, be re-used for many years.  But how should you dispose of it when it comes to the end of its usable like – is glass recyclable? Well, that depends what type of glass item it is. Turns out, all glass is not created equal. Let’s take a closer look…

So, is glass recyclable?

Although not the only measure of whether an item is eco-friendly or not, the ability to be recycled is a key consideration. For an item to be able to be repurposed into a new and usable product is a massive environmental plus.

Glass is often seen as the poster child when it comes to recyclable materials. Not only can it be recycled – but it does not lose any quality whatsoever in the process. A glass jar that has been recycled one hundred times will have, in theory, the same quality as one that has only been recycled once.

And even better, it is so easy to do. No specialist services are (generally) needed, curbside collections deal with your glass as well as your hard plastics and paper.  You don’t even need to remove labels. Simply give them a clean with soapy water to remove any food remnants and pop them in the recycling bin. As ever, when it comes to recycling, rules differ from state to state and country to country. Check out which rules apply to your local area.  

What happens to glass that isn’t recycled?

As well as being a positive in terms of product longevity, the durability of glass also presents one of its major challenges. If a glass jar ends up in landfill via the trash it will not biodegrade. That is, it will not be broken down naturally by micro-organism such as bacteria. Different sources present different estimations, but many predict that it will stick around indefinitely (or at least for millions of years…). Every glass bottle that you have thrown in the trash will still be in landfill!  

What glass items can’t be recycled?

Of course, glass has a lot more uses than just Nutella jars and wine bottles found in our kitchens. Glass is super versatile, being used from everything from drinkware to windowpanes.

Can drinking glasses be recycled?

Drinking glasses, unfortunately, cannot be recycled. Although they may look the same, the glass used to make them is different. It is designed to be tougher and contains different chemicals that your Nutella jar doesn’t. Recycling them is not possible, but they can be diverted from landfill in a few different ways.   

Can window glass be recycled?

Like drinking glasses, window glass is treated in a different way and has a different chemical composition to your wine bottles. This makes sense. They do, after all, need to keep strong when being battered by the wind and rain.

Construction waste takes up a significant chunk of landfill space. And the need to avoid adding items such as old windows is growing as the available space decreases. Windows can be recycled, but it is a complicated business! Due to the different chemical composition and melting point, they cannot be processed along with jars and bottles. But there are other things to consider too – windows are not all the same. Some are tinted, others aren’t. Some are tempered (extra tough), whilst others are standard. These different factors make the process far more complicated.  

In short, a little extra local research is required.  Get in touch with your local authority and find out what options are available in your area. As the push towards living in a more eco-friendly way continues, the facilities to make this possible are increasingly available. From incorporating old window glass into fiberglass to using it as a component of road paint, we are slowly finding creative ways to divert them from landfill.

Can broken glass be recycled?

The general consensus is that broken glass can, in fact, be recycled – as long as it is the type of glass that can be recycled to begin with. So broken drinking glasses are a no-no. But a broken wine bottle, for instance, is suitable for curbside recycling. There is a fairly decent chance that a few jars or bottles will be broken in transit anyway! As mentioned before, your local area may have different rules regarding this, but most areas do not refuse broken items.

The bottom line

The ability of glass to be recycled at the end of its life is one of its key advantages. But unfortunately, glass is not created equal. Glass bottles, coffee jars and suchlike are one of the easiest items out there to recycle. Give them a quick wash and they are good to go. To recycle windows, on the other hand, you will have to go the extra mile.