Glass Recycling Begins with Precycling
By Paul Smith



Glass remains the most readily recycled container in the market. It is true “cradle-to-cradle” packaging — meaning it can be recycled infinitely to be re-made into new bottles or jars.

To facilitate the continuous recycling of glass, consumers must precycle. This simply means choosing foods and beverages that are packaged in glass whenever possible. The more glass packaging you buy, the more glass available for recycling — which in turn improves the environmental friendliness of producing new glass containers.

Glass is endlessly recyclable, unlike other forms of packaging, and is made with natural materials. It is so pure that it does not require additional processing and can be used over and over for packaging food and beverages. For instance, a glass container can go from the recycling bin back to the supermarket shelf in as little as 30 days.

In contrast, the process of recycling packaging made from petrochemical resins (plastics) is complicated and expensive, resulting in lower recycling rates. When these plastics are recovered from post-consumer use, they are most likely to be “downcycled,” for a use other than food or beverage packaging, essentially converting a “higher use” product into a “lower use” product. If a package requires downcycling, it is a single-use container.

While much is yet to be understood about the effects of other packaging materials on human health, glass has proven to be safe and healthy for consumers and the environment for more than 3,000 years.

“Because glass is made from all-natural, raw materials, it is the only type of packaging that is 100 percent, cradle-to-cradle recyclable,” says Paul Smith, manager of recycled glass for O-I, the world’s largest manufacturer of glass containers and largest consumer of recycled glass. “We recycle more than 5,000,000 tons of glass annually in our global operations, so we take this very seriously and dedicate resources to getting it done properly and effectively for the whole glass industry.”

By relying on recycled glass, or cullet, to make new containers, manufacturers like O-I save energy and materials, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and lessen landfill loads. Recycling glass is a small step that creates a positive environmental impact and something that Smith believes consumers and companies alike can do to save energy and reduce landfill waste.

Recycling only one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a 60-watt bulb for four hours, a computer for 30 minutes or a television for 20 minutes.

O-I estimates that the energy saved from the amount of recycled glass it uses every year to manufacture glass containers around the globe could power streetlights for the New York City metropolitan area for an entire year.

Additionally, for every ten percent increase of recycled glass used in the manufacturing process, there is a 2.5 percent energy savings and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (air pollution).

Recycling glass conserves natural resources, as cullet use reduces the amount of raw materials required for glass production. One ton of recycled glass replaces more than one ton of natural materials because the net benefit of recycling glass is more than 100 percent.

To increase the amount of cullet available to manufacturers, precycle. Not only does this reduce energy for producing new glass containers, but precycling increases glass recycling and associated environmental benefits.

Increased quality cullet, garnered through glass recycling, makes sense for the environment with glass being one of the only true sustainable packaging options.

Recycled glass is important to energy conservation and protecting the environment, yet it is difficult for glass packaging manufacturers in the United States to purchase large volumes of cullet. Only about 25 percent of glass is recycled as municipalities increasingly practice what is called “single-stream” recycling.

With single-stream recycling, consumers simply throw all their recyclable materials into one bin for curbside pickup. As a result, glass is “co-mingled” with other materials, contaminating the supplies of recycled glass, and all other recyclable commodities such as paper, plastic and aluminum available to manufacture new containers.

In single-stream recycling, when glass is able to be separated from other materials, different colors of glass packages are mixed, making it difficult to re-melt the glass into new containers.

In many cases, crushed glass is simply thrown into the landfill with the trash or is used as landfill cover to prevent blowing debris. While single-stream programs may provide transportation cost savings, they simply increase the volume of recyclables going to landfills.

More recent single-stream programs have not been successful in producing substantial volumes of material for bottle-to-bottle or for other commodities subject to this form of recycling process. Such systems can be successful in recovering cullet if there is a proper investment in downstream material and color separation.

Despite the increasing demand for cullet by the container and insulation industries, usable cullet is becoming scarcer as curbside recycling programs are under increasing pressure from municipal budget constraints. These constraints have caused cancellation of some programs and the introduction of “single-stream” recycling to replace higher-quality curbside programs.

Every American discards about 500 pounds of glass per year, sending more than 11 million tons to landfills. Sadly, every bottle that ends up in the landfill could have been recycled.

In summary, choosing and then recycling glass reduces the consumption of natural resources and energy, shrinks the waste stream and helps preserve our planet for coming generations. Consumers are empowered to have an impact on the health and prosperity of the planet by precycling — and recycling — glass. Non-petroleum-based, endlessly recyclable and made from natural ingredients — glass is the safe packaging choice.

Millions of times a day, O-I glass containers deliver many of the world’s best-known consumer products to people all around the world. With the leading position in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific and Latin America, O-I manufactures consumer-preferred, 100 percent recyclable glass containers that enable superior taste, purity, visual appeal and value benefits for our customers’ products.

For more information visit

Return to the March/April Index page