Glass is a very popular material. It’s a material that is found in tableware, housing, packaging, and so much more. Roughly 12,250 tons of glass were generated in the United States alone.
Think about the stuff that you use every day. The windows in your car, your favorite glass cup (or wine glass), and even some fancy glass food containers. Glass is being used in so many areas of our lives that it can be hard to keep track of it all.
But when you think of glass in terms of its environmental impact, it can be a bit confusing. You might have heard that glass is good or bad for the environment, but which is the truth? And is glass really biodegradable, or is that a myth?
And surely glass is recyclable, right? All you have to do to do is toss it in the recycling bin and wait for the trash man to come to pick it up.
It’s that easy. Or at least, we like to think that it is.
You probably already figured this out, but the truth is rarely as simple as most people want to believe. That’s why we put together is a comprehensive article to answer all things glass-related in terms of biodegradability, recyclability, and compostability.
We will also touch on the environmental impacts of glass to see if it is good or awful for the planet.
Right to get started and learn something new? Let’s jump right in!
Is Glass Biodegradable? The Answer is Definitely Surprising.
First, let’s address the big question. The answer may seem obvious to you, but you just might be left scratching your head.
Is Glass Biodegradable?
No, glass is not biodegradable. While it is made from raw materials that are biodegradable (sand, soda ash, and limestone), the resulting glass can last forever without biodegrading.
There are really no bacteria or other microorganisms that can consume glass, which is a requirement for biodegradation.
From a consumer standpoint, this is a good thing. Since glass doesn’t biodegrade, you don’t have to worry about your glass-made items slowly falling apart.
Glass can even be compared to plastic in terms of longevity and usefulness.
So with that said, glass must be pretty bad for the environment, especially if we are comparing it to plastics of all things.
Well, you’d be once again surprised.
Is Glass Eco-Friendly?
Glass is actually pretty eco-friendly despite being non-biodegradable. It’s definitely more eco-friendly than plastic. This is because glass has the advantage of being degradable, unlike plastic.
Notice how we said degradable instead of biodegradable. While it’s still true that glass cannot biodegrade, it can still be broken down from physical and environmental factors. This is what makes it degradable.
For example, glass that ends up in the ocean will eventually break down and be crushed into tiny pieces. You may recognize this as sea glass, which looks like (sometimes transparent) multi-colored stones.
On average, it can take 20 to 40 years for glass to turn into sea glass. Sometimes, this number can balloon to 100 years!
But what’s great is that sea glass is relatively harmless. It doesn’t negatively impact the ocean or beaches, including any marine life.
It’s much rarer for glass to be disposed of on land. But in this case, glass still isn’t bad for the environment. Animals naturally do not consume glass, and many have thick skins that cannot be harmed by even sharp-edged glass.
Over time, glass is likely to degrade from environmental factors and turn into sand-like material. This material is also pretty harmless.
Plastic, on the other hand, is not very degradable. Animals are far more likely to accidentally consume it, which ultimately makes it end up back in our diets. Plastic can also kill animals by choking or internal blockage, unlike glass.
It’s clear that glass is way better for the environment than plastic, even if it’s not biodegradable.
Is Glass Recyclable?
Short answer? Yes, glass is 100% recyclable if the proper conditions are met. Glass is one of the few materials that can be endlessly recycled without suffering in quality, making it a prime choice for eco-conscious consumers.
The long answer? It’s a bit complicated, but we’ll try to keep it simple.
Glass bottles, jars, and food containers are the best for recycling. They can be recycled forever and never drop in purity as long as they are recycled with themselves.
Glass from windows, ovenware, Pyrex, and crystal can be recycled, but not with glass bottles, jars, and food containers. This is because they are manufactured through a different process. Combing the two types of glass can cause defective containers and production problems.
It’s best to recycle by color, too. Some companies, like Strategic Materials, automatically sort by color. Most waste management companies would prefer that you do it yourself. If you do not, then they will likely mix-and-match, decreasing the overall amount that can actually be reused.
While broken glass is indeed recyclable, many of these companies will not take broken glass. This is because it’s a hazard for their workers. Broken glass is likely to end up in a landfill instead, which is the worst place it can go.
Again, Strategic Materials is a company that will take a broken glass. They actually prefer since it means more glass can be recycled at once. Keep on the lookout for companies that make the process simple, as it can make a big difference.
The glass must also be contaminant-free. It should be clean and free of any non-recyclable debris. If not, then it will likely end up in a landfill, though some companies will attempt to clean their glass.
Finally, the glass should be recycled by itself. Broken glass can be contaminated with other recyclables, making them non-recyclable and putting them in a landfill.
If you are ever unsure of the proper protocol for recycling glass, reach out to your local waste management company or recycling center. They can detail their guidelines and acceptance rules so that you always make sure to get it right.
It would really be a shame to not meet their criteria and think you are doing some good in the world, only to have your efforts be in vain. Always make sure to get information from local companies before recycling!
Is Glass Compostable?
No, glass is not compostable for the same reasons that it isn’t biodegradable. To compost your waste is an organic process; you need bacteria (and maybe worms) to ensure that your waste biodegrades as soon as possible.
But since there are no organisms that can consume and process glass, a compost unit will do nothing to glass. Except potentially cut you when you have to eventually fish it out of your compost unit.
Do not compost your glass. It’s better to stick with the 3 Rs for glass:
Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!
Let’s go over the key points for glass:
- Glass is not biodegradable.
- Glass is not compostable.
- Glass is recyclable, but you need to follow the rules of your local waste management or recycling center.
- Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle your glass! You can get a ton of use out of glass. Even broken pieces can be reformed into new items or integrated into a work of art. The sky is the limit!
While glass is not biodegradable, it’s actually not bad for the environment. While it’s best not to litter at all, it’s good to know that glass doesn’t have much of a negative eco-impact even in the ocean.
In fact, sea glass is a sought-after commodity. So much so that there are people that actually make fake sea glass in order to meet demand.
And with all of that said, here are some heartwarming environmental facts about glass that we will finish with:
- Over a ton of natural resources are saved per ton of recycled glass.
- One ton of carbon dioxide is reduced for every six tons of recycled glass.
- 33% of all recycled glass food and beverage containers are recycled.
- Glass bottles have reduced 40% in weight over the last 30 years.
- Recycled glass is substituted for up to 95% of raw materials.
- Recycling glass reduces emissions, extends the life of plant equipment, and saves energy
That concludes our article! Now you can spread the word on how non-biodegradable (and eco-friendly) glass actually is.
Or you can just send them to this article 😉 .
Questions, comments, concerns, or just wanna chat? Leave a comment below and we’ll get right back to you. We’d love to hear from you all.
If you like this article, check out some of our others too:
If you like this article, check out some of our others too:
- Is Gum Biodegradable? The Sticky Truth Revealed.
- Is Paper Biodegradable? The Answer May Surprise You…
- Is Cardboard Biodegradable? Everything You Need To Know.
- Is Latex Biodegradable? What You Need To Know.
- Is “It” Biodegradable? Easy Cheat Sheet for Popular Products
As always, thanks for reading! We appreciate you stopping by!
Let’s all continue to strive for a greener, better way of living!