Myths vs. Facts About Glass Recycling

Myths vs. Facts About Glass Recycling
Myths vs. Facts About Glass Recycling

The subject of glass recycling is a surprisingly confusing one. Glass recycling myths — like “glass has no value” or “there are no markets for glass” — spread like wildfire, influencing opinions in ways that end up hurting the environment and local economies. Experts say misinformation is a significant barrier to improving glass recycling. Cities and counties, citizens, and even recycling industry participants sometimes misunderstand glass recycling, going on to spread incorrect knowledge or take wrong actions based on it.

We want to do our part to help clear up those misunderstandings and set the record straight. As a follow-up to our state of glass recycling in Gwinnett article and glass recycling Q&A article, we’re mythbusting, putting common glass recycling myths and misconceptions up against the facts.

MYTH: Glass belongs in the trash.
FACT: Glass shouldn’t be trashed — it has value.

Some people use the safe properties of glass against it to argue that this material belongs in the trash. Because glass is inert and nontoxic, they say, there is no harm in putting it in landfills. But there is harm. Even when broken into shards, glass is bulky and makes our local landfills fill up faster. None of us want more landfills in our community, so we should keep glass out of the trash. Also, unlike some recyclables (looking at you, plastic!), glass doesn’t have a limited recycling lifespan. It’s recyclable an infinite number of times, with no loss in quality. When it is recycled, glass protects the environment and creates jobs. A glass bottle that is sent to a landfill can take up to a million years to break down. By contrast, it takes as little as 30 days for a recycled glass bottle to leave your kitchen recycling bin and appear on a store shelf as a new glass container.

Something that is reusable or recyclable never belongs in the trash — it has value.

MYTH: There are no markets for recycled glass.
FACT: There are strong markets for recycled glass. Manufacturers need much more of it!

Approximately 1,200 jobs and $1.1 billion in annual revenue results from recycled glass in Georgia. Companies like Owens Corning, CertainTeed, John Mansville, and Anchor Glass use recycled glass at their locations in our state to make new containers to hold our food and drinks and fiberglass insulation to insulate our homes. Their furnaces operate more efficiently and use less fuel with greater amounts of recycled glass replacing virgin extracted resources. Not only is recycled glass wanted, glass recyclers are actually having to import recycled glass from other states to meet manufacturing demand in Georgia. Strategic Materials, North America’s largest glass recycler, says they desperately need more glass supply in the state. They recycle about 10,000 tons of glass per month at one of their Atlanta plants and need more!

Check out this video about how recycling benefits Georgia’s economy:

MYTH: Glass recycling isn’t economically viable.
FACT: Glass recyclers pay for quality glass.

Quality of glass drives recycled glass pricing, and recyclers will pay for high-quality glass material. The quality of glass is determined by how free from trash contamination it is, and at drop-off sites where glass is collected with other glass, the glass stream is very high-quality.

The Snellville Recycling Center, one such drop-off site that collects glass bottles and jars from the public, earned revenues of nearly $5,000 on glass recycling in fiscal year 2020-2021. This bit of revenue helps with the center’s operating expenses and is a welcome side benefit of keeping natural resources out of local landfills.

MYTH: Transportation to recyclers makes glass recycling inefficient.
FACT: High-quality glass retains value when transported, and only needs to be brought to Atlanta.

Fortunately, glass doesn’t have to travel far. North America’s largest glass recycler has two processing facilities in Atlanta. The closer one is in College Park, about 40 miles from Gwinnett — approximately the same distance as materials in our curbside recycling bin travel. 

MYTH: Glass isn’t recyclable in Gwinnett County.
FACT: Glass is recyclable in Gwinnett — just not curbside.

Instead of putting glass bottles and jars in your curbside recycling bin or cart with other recyclables like plastic bottles, metal cans, paper, and cardboard, for now you need to take glass to a drop-off recycling center where glass can be recycled in a container with other glass.

Why isn’t glass recyclable curbside in Gwinnett? While glass is very recyclable, it doesn’t usually get along well with single-stream curbside recycling — a model that Gwinnett and many other communities nationwide shifted to for convenience and cost savings. According to Waste360.com, “The problems begin with the collection process, where glass breaks when it is placed in collection vehicles. With single-stream programs, broken glass is mixed up with tons of other recyclables and is difficult to sort. At recycling centers glass is hard on equipment, creating wear on conveyor belts, screens, and other moving parts. Quality issues are another concern of the recycling manager. As paper and cardboard mills become more stringent on quality, buyers of used fiber will pay significantly less for materials containing crushed glass.” With that said, some facilities that sort and process curbside recyclables in the Atlanta area and across the U.S. are making equipment retrofits to be able to capture curbside glass for recycling. It can be done, but it requires upfront equipment investments and process upgrades that many facilities have been reluctant to make. It is easier for them to say “glass belongs in the trash.”

The Snellville Recycling Center accepts glass bottles and jars from the general public. Some cities in Gwinnett have glass recycling drop-off sites that are reserved for City residents: The City of Duluth at the Duluth Public Works Complex, the City of Norcross at Norcross Public Works, and the City of Peachtree Corners at BJ’s Transfer Station.

While these centers are a good start, we need even more drop-offs for the nearly one million residents of Gwinnett to conveniently recycle materials like glass, a much fuller spectrum of plastics, scrap metal, electronics, mattresses, tires, and even household hazardous waste such as cleaners and paint. Use our template email to let your commissioner know that you want convenient access to glass recycling again. It’s what our environment and our community needs.

MYTH: There isn’t much glass packaging anymore, anyway.
FACT: Lots of household goods are still sold in glass bottles and jars.

Since glass still dominates in beer, wine, and liquor packaging and shows up also in the condiment aisle and in other household goods, it makes up a significant enough portion of the average household waste stream to be a concern if it’s relegated to the landfill. Glass, on average, makes up about 20-25% of a household’s recyclables by weight. In addition, switching from plastic containers back to glass is becoming more popular, as consumers become more aware of the harms of single-use plastic and as companies rediscover the benefits of glass. Restoring glass recycling is a forward-looking solution.

MYTH: Curbside glass recycling ended because China stopped taking glass.
FACT: Glass recycling is local, and our glass was never exported internationally.

Nearly all glass recycled in the U.S. is domestic. Recovered glass rarely is exported overseas, or imported. Glass recycling was not directly related to China’s decision to import much less recycling from the U.S. and Europe, but it was affected indirectly by it as communities and recyclers reconfigured their services in the tumultuous months following the 2018 implementation of China’s scrap import restrictions. In some cases glass was caught up in the fallout because of broader recycling cost pressures. Hundreds of U.S. municipalities reworked their accepted materials lists, and many (including Gwinnett) cut glass from curbside collection.

MYTH: Glass must be unbroken to be recyclable.
FACT: Breaking glass is just part of recycling!

Some people think that glass bottles and jars must be intact to recycle, so they are careful when they recycle these containers at drop-off centers to make sure they don’t break. In fact, glass is smashed into bits called “cullet” as part of the recycling process, so glass broken into shards at a drop-off is usually no problem and might even help more glass fit into the container before pickup. While glass shards are fine, pulverized or sand-like glass is not accepted. It’s too fine for processors to recycle, since it falls through their screens and cannot be color-sorted. 

MYTH: Glass must be sorted by color to be recyclable.
FACT: Unsorted glass is recyclable, too.

Glass recyclers have optical sorting machines to get mixed-up glass perfectly color-sorted again. Also, color sort is required for container glass, but there are other industries, like fiberglass, that are less color-sensitive and can use unsorted glass, what the industry calls “three-mix glass.”

That said, if you are dropping off glass at a recycling center that requests that you recycle glass by color (clear, brown, and green), please do so — they can get higher rebates from glass recyclers if those recyclers do not have to run the glass through their color sorters.

MYTH: Blue glass isn’t recyclable.
FACT: Blue glass bottles and jars are 100% recyclable!

Recycle them with other glass bottles and jars. If asked to color-sort, put them in the bin marked for green glass.

MYTH: Glass must be cleaned, and labels removed, to be recyclable.
FACT: Food residue and labels don’t hinder the glass recycling process.

Leave labels on, and don’t worry about getting glass food and beverage containers perfectly clean. A quick rinse is appreciated but not required. At most drop-offs, you can even leave metal caps and lids on bottles and jars — glass recyclers collect those for recycling too!

Note: In glass recycling drop-offs, stick to including only glass bottles and jars. Leave out cardboard boxes, plastic bags, ceramics like plates or mugs, and heat-resistant ovenware like Pyrex. They can’t be recycled with glass and will contaminate clean loads.

Are there any other glass recycling myths we need to bust? Let us know in the comments!

About Gwinnett Recycles: Gwinnett Recycles is focused on helping Gwinnett County, the second-largest county in the state of Georgia, reduce, reuse, compost, and recycle more material and keep waste out of landfills and the environment. Gwinnett Recycles is run 100% independently by citizen volunteers. To connect with us and support our efforts, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, subscribe to our newsletter, and consider volunteering with us!

2 Comments

  • Joette Segars Posted August 13, 2021 9:36 am

    Do you have an itemized list of individual items that can be picked up curbside in the City of Lilburn?

    Reply
    • Laura Posted August 15, 2021 7:53 pm

      Hi Joette! Yes, recyclables accepted curbside in the City of Lilburn and anywhere in Gwinnett are empty plastic bottles and jugs that are marked with a #1 or a #2 resin identification code (the number inside the recycling symbol); empty metal food and beverage cans; empty aerosol cans; paper (except shredded paper); magazines and junk mail; and flattened cardboard. Let us know if you have any other questions.

      Reply

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