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Architect's Daughter | Glass is Great

Glass is probably one of the most favourable products we can recycle to date. This is because when glass is recycled, it comes out the other end with 100% of the property value it went in with. Unlike plastics and other materials, glass does not lose any of its characteristics during the recycling process. This amazing ability for glass to be able to maintain its quality, purity and durability through its recycling trials and tribulations has made it an important material throughout history, today, and definitely for the future.

To make things a little more interesting, lets start out by playing devil’s advocate. In case you aren’t aware, it is estimated by the The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services that it takes around one million years for glass to biodegrade. That doesn’t sound great, and what else? Glass is breakable! Oh and it is also heavy, which would cost more fuel to have it transported. So you might be asking yourself, wait.. why is glass a sustainable product? And if you don’t have the answer just yet, your planet saving, world loving gut is probably still going to opt for glass over plastic if you had to choose. They say "trust your gut", and we are saying to do that here too. Despite these 3 “disadvantages”, glass is an absolutely amazing product, and below we will explain why.

The most critical point to start with is that the building blocks of glass are non fossil fuel. This means that when making glass, we are not burning ancient precious oils that emit a myriad of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. Typically speaking, glass is made from sand, limestone, and soda ash. Now you may be thinking that sand, limestone and soda ash are all natural constituents of the ground, and this is a completely valid point. Nonetheless, although these products usually have to be extracted from the earth, the good news comes back around to the recycling ability of glass. If humans are responsible with their glass, the amazing material could be recycled indefinitely without having to extract much or any of these resources further. In light of this, it is proven that recycling glass can substitute 95% of it’s raw materials, almost completely eliminating the need for any raw materials. Having said this, recycling glass has been proven to significantly reduce emissions, consumption of raw materials, and significantly reduce on energy expenditure to extract these resources.

Let’s put this into context. When your glass reaches a recycling plant, it is first sorted by colour and then it is crushed down into tiny pieces. These tiny pieces of your recycled glass are mixed with a controlled amount of limestone and other raw materials (that 5% we were talking about earlier). The result of this careful mixture creates a very special granular material called cullet. Once the cullet is ready, it is heated in ovens at the recycling plant and subsequently molded to form new glass. Et Voila.

We cannot stress enough that recycling glass is such a critical and sustainable process, and what makes it so sustainable is the tremendously positive environmental impact of cullet. Cullet has a variety of benefits in that it replaces an enormous amount of otherwise used raw materials and energy. After all, the primary source of cullet is recycled glass and due to its recycled content, cullet melts in ovens at a much lower temperature than its corresponding raw materials. Therefore, as previously mentioned, by bypassing much unneeded additional resource extraction and energy expenditure, the use of cullet significantly lowers emissions and energy that would otherwise be hijacked from the use of new raw materials. Ultimately, cullet helps to leave raw materials and natural resources in the earth, where they belong.

So what happens when glass is recycled? Usually it is sold to glass container manufacturers and made into new bottles and jars. Clean recycled glass is primarily used by the food and beverage industry. When glass is contaminated or seen as unfit for the food and beverage industry, it is typically purchased in the construction industry where it is used as a component in tile, concrete, or pavement etc.

All glass can be recycled. There is really no excuse not to recycle your glass. By using and recycling glass you are keeping resources in the ground, reducing GHG emissions and contributing to a sustainable cycle that will benefit us all.

- Architect's Daughter

Glass Packaging Institute (GPI), 4250 North Fairfax Street, Suite 600, Arlington, VA 22203, September 2019. www.gpi.org.
Jacoby, Mitch. Why glass recycling in the US is broken. Chemical and Engineering News (c&en). February 11, 2019. https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

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