We all most likely handle some type of glass several times a day without thinking about what this material actually is. Glass has been around for thousands of years and from its beginnings has been made primarily with natural elements – sand, limestone, soda ash, and various additives, including those used to color brown, green or blue bottles.

The basic recipe for glass is still the same, but one thing in the mix has changed – the percentage of cullet (crushed recycled glass) used in glass production today. Glass can be recycled endlessly with no loss in quality or purity and can be substituted for up to 95% of raw materials.

While a glass bottle may have been the first thing many of us put in a recycling bin (or took back to the store to get our deposit back), the process of recycling glass has changed over the last few years. It’s really simple: we have glass and there are companies who want glass to process into new containers. Then why does it seem like it’s gotten so complicated? I decided to see if I could simplify things – for myself as well as others.

Processed recycled glass

Why should we recycle glass?
In addition to the fact that glass can live on and on and easily be re-made for different purposes, recycling glass has many other benefits, including

  • Saving natural resources (over a ton of natural resources are saved for every ton of glass recycled)
  • Reducing energy costs
  • Reducing carbon dioxide production
  • Providing opportunities for employment at glass processing facilities

 So what happens to the recycled glass? Who uses it?
An estimated 80% of all glass containers recovered for recycling are re-melted and find new life primarily in new glass containers and fiberglass. According to the Glass Packaging Institute, these two industries collectively purchase 3 million tons of recycled glass annually, which becomes the new containers or fiberglass products.

 Why can’t I put glass in my recycling bin any longer?
This answer depends on who is collecting the recycling. Most of us have Single-Stream Collection at our homes and businesses (all recyclable material are put into the same bin). The responsibility of the collection company is to collect and deliver the single-stream recycling to a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) where everything is processed together by automated sorting equipment. When that happens, the unseparated glass breaks and degrades, losing its value to a glass recycling processor.

It is not because glass can no longer be recycled. In fact the
demand for recycled glass continues to outpace the supply.

Glass recycling is further complicated because guidelines differ from state to state and city to city. In the Atlanta area, for example, glass recycling has essentially become non-existent. Hauling companies and cart service collection companies began eliminating glass from their acceptable materials lists in late 2015 and 2016 because recycling processing facilities stopped accepting glass due to complications in processing glass as a component of a mixed stream.

In contrast, in July of this year, DeKalb County discontinued the placement of glass in curbside single-stream recycling, instead offering its residents county-operated glass recycling drop-off locations featuring a glass separation process. By doing this, DeKalb became the first county in Georgia to offer an official glass recycling drop-off program in an urban area. This program is ideal for residential glass but not necessarily for commercial businesses.

Glass in the landfill

High costs also complicate things, at least in the initial stages of investment. For example, Nashville just announced it will spend $400,000 to start collecting glass bottles for recycling from downtown bars. They are making a big investment, but a worthwhile one. According to Nashville Public Radio, it’s estimated that one of the larger bars in Nashville may go through up to 1,500 glass bottles an hour on busy nights. That’s right: 1,500 AN HOUR.

Where do all the unrecycled bottles end up?
In landfills, of course – where it can take one million years for a glass bottle to decompose. Glass is a hardy material – haven’t you ever wondered how it’s possible we still have glass artifacts from Egypt and other ancient civilizations?


As Atlanta’s population continues to grow, the city is looking for cost-effective solutions to the challenges of recycling glass, including equipment upgrades as well as the development of drop off sites.

 “Georgia is home to eight manufacturing locations that use recycled glass as a material,
providing employment to more than 1300 people. A city the size of Atlanta
can influence all the cities around it.”
—-Bill Clark of Strategic Materials,
the premier supplier of glass cullet to the container industry

The market and the product are here; how can we do more in Georgia and the Atlanta area – whether through government or private companies?

Watch for Part Two next week…

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