Quick Facts About Glass Recycling

Glass recycling facts you should know

••• Helena Wahlman, Getty Images

Glass recycling is a common practice, and many communities include glass bottle and container collection in curbside collection programs. (To read my introduction to glass recycling, click here.) Recycled glass is sought by the glass packaging industry as it requires less energy to process, and therefore is more cost effective than virgin glass.

However, when the glass is commingled with other materials in the recycling process, broken glass shards can result in contamination and safety concerns.

Another consideration is that fewer and fewer glass containers are being purchased as consumers shift to plastic. As a result of such trends, some communities, including my local city, have phased out glass recycling at curbside. Even as some cities curtail curbside glass recycling, however, alternative recycling options may be made available for this material.

Here are some noteworthy facts and statistics about glass recycling:

  1. "Cullet" is the industry term for furnace-ready recycled glass, material which is free of contaminants such as ceramics, metals, stones, or gravel, etc.
  2. Bottles and jars made from glass are 100 percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss of quality.
  3. In 2009, according to the U.S. EPA, glass made up 4.8 percent of the municipal solid waste stream.
  4. Approximately 8 out of 10 households recycle, and of those that do, 82 percent recycle glass bottles and jars, according to a 2009 survey. Around 69 percent recycle glass containers at the curb, while 23 percent use drop-off collection.
  1. An estimated 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new glass bottles, and it can happen quickly. A glass container can go from a recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days.
  2. The use of recycled glass is more environmentally friendly than new. Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours, or to power a television for 20 minutes.
  1. Glass container manufacturers hope to achieve 50 percent recycled content in the manufacture of new glass bottles. This achievement would save enough energy to power 21,978 homes for one year and while removing over 181 tons of waste from landfills on a monthly basis. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, containers averaged 33% recycled content in 2013.
  2. Energy costs drop about 2-3 percent for every 10 percent of cullet used in the manufacturing process.
  3. For every six tons of recycled container glass employed in the production process, one ton of carbon dioxide creation is avoided.
  4. Approximately 48 glass manufacturing plants operate in 22 states.  According to the Glass Packaging institute,16 companies operate 51 glass beneficiating facilities across the country. At these glass processing plants, recycled glass is cleaned and sorted, prior to being resold to glass container manufacturing companies for remelting into new food and beverage containers. On average, a typical glass processing facility can handle 20 tons of color-sorted glass per hour.
  5. Over 41% of beer and soft drink bottles were recovered for recycling in 2013, according to the US EPA, along with 34.5% of wine and spirits bottles and 15% of other glass jars. Overall, 34% of glass containers were recycled. States with beverage return deposit legislation averaged a 63% return rate for glass beverage containers versus 24% in non-bottle bill states. 

    For more information on glass recycling, check out my article on glass recycling facts and figures, as well as my coverage of the benefits of state bottle bills. Beverage bottle recycling bills are critical in the design of recycling programs which incentivize the diversion of beverage containers from landfills, including glass bottles.