Glass such as that in glass bottles has a remarkable lifetime. It takes hundreds to thousands of years for glass to break down naturally in landfills. But small glass jars and the like are 100% recyclable, and this longevity means bottles and jars can be recycled indefinitely. These are just a few of the most interesting things about glass and the lifecycle of a material that has been a part of human lives for thousands of years.
In everyday life, the most common form of glass is for holding drinks and sauces. Beer, soda, juice, hot sauce, salsa, and pasta sauce are very familiar for most people, and those glass bottles can easily be recovered to be repeatedly recycled into new bottles and jars. And glass retains all of its quality when recycled, with none of the glass being lost during the process. The country-wide drive to recycle this material and take advantage of its reusable properties have led to some impressive numbers. More than 33% of all glass containers were recycled in 2010 according to the EPA, and in some states that number got as high as 80%.
The modern process of making glass explains why governments have put so much effort into increasing recycling. A ton of glass requires more than a ton of inputs, including the silica – sand – soda ash and limestone used to improve clarity and shape, and feldspar, which helps make glass easier to shape and control during production. Production itself creates over a ton of carbon gasses for every four tons of glass. Glass is incredibly durable and valuable for everything from daily life to science, but a closed recycling loop that virtually eliminates the production of new glass would dramatically reduces the consumption of raw materials and pollution emissions, without any sacrifice in quality. Recycling even decreases energy consumption, and of course reduces the presence of glass in landfills.
All these effects of recycling glass bottles and other containers go a long way to making it more reasonable for us to maintain our current usage and consumption. This is important because glass has so many valuable uses. It can be vacuum sealed, which enables manufacturers to keep moisture, oxygen, and bacterium out of products that would spoil or even become dangerous if not preserved correctly. Glass is also easy to sterilize quickly and inexpensively, and can tolerate very high temperatures, making it effective for use in scientific laboratories, hospitals, and kitchens. And perhaps most importantly, however obvious, glass combines strength, transparency, and being lightweight in a way that makes it ideal for everything from windows to terrariums for animals.
Glass and glass bottles have been around since ancient Egypt, and people have relied on the material for its functionality, durability, and versatility for just as long. Glass is a precious material that has become relatively abundant. So we are lucky that scientists have discovered efficient ways to recycle the material with zero loss so that it can be remade into new items as needed, enabling our society to significantly reduce its impact on the environment.