Glass Recycling Guide 2024

Green, brown, and clear glass bottles

Glass is essentially infinitely recyclable, it’s also really simple to produce with a wide variety of materials.

It may be heavy when compared with other recyclables that serve the same purpose, resulting in more fuel emissions & space required for transportation.

By following the guidance below you can ensure that your glass waste is recycled properly without causing any cross-contamination or accidentally making a common mistake which leads to it being sent to landfill.

Table of Contents:

What is commercial glass waste recycling?

Commercial glass recycling is the process of taking your businesses’ glass waste, crushing and melting it, and finally remoulding it back into useful glass products.

If you’re a restaurant, for example, your empty beer, wine, and soft drink bottles will be collected by your waste collector and taken to a treatment facility (making sure your glass bottles don’t get mixed with your other waste types on the way).

A photograph of clear, green and brown glass recycling

The treatment facility will then crush the bottles into small fragments called cullets. Then they’ll wash them and remove any drink residue or sticky labels.

Following that they’ll melt down the cullets and place the molten glass into moulds to create new drinks bottles.

This recycling process is so efficient that, if done correctly, effectively 100% of your glass waste can be recycled into new products.

How is glass recycled? – Glass recycling process

Glass is recycled in a 3-step process.

First, it’s collected from your business sight and delivered to a treatment facility (transportation stage), then it’s sorted, crushed, and cleaned (cullet stage), and finally, it’s melted down and remoulded into new products (reproduction stage).

an infographic showing the glass recycling process

Environmental Advantages of Glass Recycling

Resource Conservation

In the UK, companies like Ardagh Group have been recognised for their commitment to glass recycling.

Ardagh’s glass packaging solutions contribute significantly to the circular economy, reducing the need for raw materials.

By recycling glass, companies help conserve natural resources such as sand, soda ash, and limestone, which are essential for glass production.

Reduced Landfill Impact

The Reuseful UK network promotes the reuse of glass bottles in various creative ways, reducing the volume of glass ending up in landfills.

By diverting glass waste from landfills, recycling reduces the environmental impact and helps in achieving waste reduction goals.

Energy Savings and Carbon Emission Reduction

Lower Energy Consumption

British Glass highlights the energy-saving benefits of glass recycling.

Recycling glass requires less energy compared to manufacturing new glass from raw materials.

For every ton of recycled glass used in production, energy consumption is reduced by around 20%, leading to a substantial decrease in the carbon footprint of glass products.

A photograph of a women recycling an old glass wine bottle

Types of Glass Suitable for Recycling

Clear Glass

Clear glass is highly recyclable, and frequently repurposed to create new clear glass containers due to its transparency.

This characteristic simplifies the recycling process, allowing for the production of high-quality recycled clear glass.

One primary challenge lies in avoiding contamination from coloured or treated glass. Effective sorting technologies and educational initiatives are pivotal in bringing down such contamination, and ensuring the integrity of recycled clear glass.

Coloured Glass

Coloured glass, encompassing shades like green, brown, and amber, is extensively recycled, typically reused to manufacture new containers of corresponding colours.

While coloured glass contributes significantly to sustainable packaging solutions, sorting mixed-coloured glass poses challenges.

Advanced sorting technologies, including optical sorting machines, play a crucial role in efficiently separating different coloured glasses, and enhancing the quality of recycled glass.

Specialty Glasses

Specialty glasses, such as heat-resistant or lead glass, present distinctive recycling challenges due to their unique compositions.

Although recycling is possible, it necessitates specialised processes. For heat-resistant glass like Pyrex, adjusting temperature and processing conditions is essential.

Recycling lead glass requires meticulous separation and treatment to prevent contamination within the recycling stream.

Challenges and Solutions in Recycling Different Glass Types

Contamination

Contamination, characterised by the presence of ceramics, plastics, or non-glass materials, poses a significant challenge to the quality of recycled glass.

To address this issue, advanced sorting technologies such as air classifiers and vibrating screens are employed during recycling.

Simultaneously, education and awareness initiatives are critical in reducing contamination at its source.

Mixed Glass Recycling

Processing mixed glass, combining clear and coloured glass in a single recycling stream, can result in colour contamination, impacting the quality of recycled glass.

Adopting dual-stream or multi-stream collection systems, where clear and coloured glass are collected separately, proves effective in minimising colour contamination and streamlining the recycling process.

However, most recycling collectors now offer mixed recyclable waste bins.

Material from these bins is processed by newer, more advanced technologies which can intelligently separate different coloured glass types.

Recycling Non-Bottle Glass

The recycling of non-bottle glass, including glass cookware, mirrors, and windows, presents challenges due to varying compositions and melting points.

Specialised processing units equipped to handle non-bottle glass, combined with technologies like thermal treatment or crushing and melting at specific temperatures, facilitate the recycling of these diverse glass items.

Downcycling Concerns

Downcycling, wherein recycled glass may be repurposed into lower-value products due to contamination or impurities, is a pertinent concern.

Maintaining high-quality standards through efficient sorting processes during recycling helps mitigate the risk of downcycling, ensuring that recycled glass retains its value in the production of new, high-quality glass products.

Large-Scale Glass Recycling Sites

Strategic Recycling Infrastructure

The Recresco glass recycling facility in South Kirkby, West Yorkshire, is a prominent example of a large-scale recycling site in the UK.

Facilities like Recresco play a vital role in processing vast amounts of recycled glass, ensuring it is sorted and ready for reuse in various industries.

Landmark Recycling Achievements

The Berrington Hall National Trust Property undertook a glass recycling project as part of its sustainability efforts.

By successfully recycling large quantities of glass on-site, they not only reduced their environmental impact but also set an example for heritage sites and historical buildings.

Is glass more eco-friendly than plastic?

On the surface, glass is one of the best eco-friendly container products in the world when it comes to recycling – far better than plastic in that regard.

However, due to glass being heavier, the overall impact on the environment when you take into account things like transportation costs is actually slightly worse for the planet.

A photo of lots of glass bottles

Glass can be recycled with 100% efficiency due to its simplistic chemical structure which is great news. But because it’s heavy, inflexible, and prone to damage it can be a burden on the environment in real terms.

Whereas, plastic, in general, is a lot more difficult to recycle efficiently. This is because many plastic products are made up of various polymers and components.

This means that melting points are rarely the same from one plastic product to another so the recycling process becomes difficult.

However, due to plastic being far more flexible, durable, and lighter its overall harm to the planet is shockingly less than that of glass!

Can you put normal glass in recycling?

Many glass items you regularly throw away can be recycled such as jars and bottles (without their lids and caps). But other glass products such as lightbulbs, drinking glasses, and Pyrex can’t be recycled in the normal way since they are designed to withstand high temperatures.

Ceramic items are also often mistakenly thrown into commercial glass bins. These can’t be recycled under the same process as glass bottles and jars either.

Types of glass you can typically recycle

  • Bottles
  • Jars

These will need to be without lids/caps and can be any colour whether that’s clear, brown, green, amber, or blue.

This didn’t always use to be the case and glass waste had to be separated by colour. But with modern recycling technology, this is no longer a problem.

Photo of lots of glass bottles waiting to be recycled

Types of glass you can’t recycle without specialist processes

  • Glass mixed with other non-glass materials

  • Decorated glass products

  • Mirrors

  • Ceramics/dishware

  • Pyrex and oven glass

  • Window glass

  • Light bulbs

Most businesses, especially those in hospitality won’t need a specialist recycling service for these materials and standard collection service for their empty bottles and jars is far more common.

Glass recycling facts and statistics

  • Glass can be endlessly recycled without losing its quality or integrity

  • In the UK, glass has a 76.5% recycle rate – meaning that three-quarters of all glass is recycled

  • Around 1 tonne of natural resources are saved for every tonne of glass that is recycled

  • Over the last 30 years, glass bottles have had their weight reduced by 40%

  • Every tonne of glass recycled saves 246 kilograms of CO2 emissions

  • It would take about 1 million years to fully decompose glass in landfill

  • 200,000 tonnes of recyclable glass is unfortunately sent to landfill each year

  • For every 100,000 tonnes of glass recycled, 500 jobs are created

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