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Wash, crush, melt, mould. How glass recycling works

Written by Linda Zubairi

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Posted on September 29 2022

 

Or how does your empty wine bottle turn into a beautiful vase?

Have you ever wondered what happens to your wine bottle after you’ve emptied it? Let’s assume you rinsed it out and put it into your recycling bin together with your other glass wastGlass bottles for recyclinge. At this point we should probably mention that you don’t need to put it through the dishwasher. Your used washing up water is sufficient to rinse them out.

Your glass recycling is then taken to a glass treatment plant, where it is sorted into green, brown and clear. Here it is also washed properly to remove any contamination. 

Then, and this sounds like great fun, it is crushed. The crushed glass is called cullet. Cullet is melted, and moulded into new shapes. Usually that will be bottles and jars, some of it even goes into bricks, but a few more aspirational little cullets escape the food industry and end up as beautiful vases, tumblers or (yes) wine glasses on the Thought & Style website.Recycled glass being melted

For those ones that do reenter the food chain, we are happy to report that glass does not degrade through the recycling process, so it can be recycled again and again. However, we would always recommend finding other uses if you can, before you return anything to the recycling center. More on that later.

How much glass are we talking about here?

The average UK household uses 500 glass bottles and jars every year. It takes a ton of glass to make around 4000 bottles or jars. 752,000 tons of glass is now recycled annually in the UK. However, the UK currently recycles only around 50% of its glass, compared to rates of 80% to 90% in some other European countries. Washed glass bottles for recyclingSo there is still room for improvement. As consumers, we can vote with our choices. Besides recycling our glass waste, we can demand products made with recycled rather than virgin glass. For example, a recycled glass vase will be even more of a statement of your personal values, and a great talking point to pick up the topic with children or friends.

 

But why?

What are the advantages of glass recycling, you mean? Well, we’re glad you asked.

Reduced rubbish in landfill

Well, for starters, all those bottles don’t end up in land fill. Glass doesn’t degrade well on its own, so it would end up filling up the rubbish dumps for (almost) eternity.

Reduced use of natural resourcesCrushed glass cullet for recycling

Also, the raw materials for virgin glass (sand, soda ash, limestone and other additives for colour or special treatments) have to be quarried, which uses up natural resources and a lot of energy in the process. Each ton of recycled glass saves 1.2 tons of raw materials. How about that.

Reduced use of non-renewable fossil fuel and less CO2 emissions

But there is more still. Producing glass from cullet uses much less energy than doing so from raw materials. This reduces carbon emissions and reduces water and air pollution. Throughout the whole production process of a ton of cullet being recycled, 580kg of CO2 are saved. To bring it back to our initial wine bottle: Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a television for 1 ½ hours. How’s that for an excuse to drink more wine?New bottles from recycled glass

Espcially with drasticially rising energy costs affecting prices across the board, the cost savings should be a huge incentive for producers to make and  buy recycled instead of virgin glass.

And the best thing is, glass does not loose quality, no matter how many times it is recycled. So your bottle can be recycled over and over again to the same standards.

Is it perfect?

Nothing ever is, but it’s a definite improvement compared to using virgin glass and binning it after a single use. In our view, a sound system of refilling the same bottle without crushing, melting and moulding it in between would be much preferable, and way more sustainable. A good system of returning drinks bottles to the store for a deposit has existed in Germany for decades. We will tell you all about this on another day. Brits don’t do this yet, but one option is available: Using a milk delivery service means your milk is delivered in glass bottles, which saves plastic, and you return the bottle to be washed and refilled. According to one industry source, milk bottles are used an average of 13 times before being recycled in the UK. Not a new idea, but what a good one. If you like milk, that is. We don’t know of a similar system for wine yet, but let us know if you hear about one.

Now you may go back to your shopping. Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

Mouthblowing of recycled glass

 

 

Sources:

The Waste and Resources Action Programme recyclenow.com

WWF - World Wide Fund For Nature

Britglass - British Glass Manufacturers' Confederation

Glass Recycling (UK)