The UK has a known and consistent waste recycling track record, adopted by both public and independent recycling companies and the country’s citizenry. In the 2021 WRAP Recycling Tracker Report, nine in every ten UK households (88%) reported recycling as an established family practice.
Glass stands out as one of the UK’s most recycled materials. The 2021 UK Statistics on Waste update shows that glass was the second-highest recycled material in the country, with a 75.8% recycle rate achievement and second only to metal.
This achievement is explained by an undeniably broader understanding of the positive environmental impact of waste glass reprocessing on our natural habitat and the global and national economy.
The Benefits of Glass Recycling
The noteworthy recycling rate in the UK is a considerable contribution to the global environmental conservation efforts and the realisation of circular economy principles.
Specifically, glass recycling has the following benefits:
The energy needed to create recycled glass products is less than what is used to make them from virgin raw materials. Precisely, every tonne of recycled glass saves energy of up to 42 Kwh.
The low energy consumption is because the glass recycling process is more energy-preserving than making it from other raw materials. In addition, recycling saves us energy costs that would otherwise be used in harnessing virgin raw materials.
A Lower Carbon Footprint
The millions of tonnes of glass recycled in the UK every year save the globe loads of pollutants in carbon dioxide emissions. This is because the less energy-consuming process of recycling comes with a lower carbon footprint.
For every tonne of glass recycled, the atmosphere is saved from 246 kg (542 pounds) of released carbon dioxide. This carbon emission rate is much less than the levels produced in mining sand, the main ingredient in glass production.
Preservation of Raw Materials
Sand is the most traded natural resource after water and the most mined commodity. As such, recycled glass (also called cullet) is a valuable alternative to freshly produced glass because it saves the natural landscape from the scars engraved by sand quarries. In addition, glass is infinitely recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without losing its original quality.
From an environmental impact perspective, all this means that glass is greener when recycled than when produced from new raw materials.
Reduction of Landfills
Landfills are a major waste disposal method in the UK. Each year, millions of tonnes of waste end up at landfill sites. This is also true in other countries like the US, where an estimated 28 billion glass jars and bottles end up in landfills each year, an amount equivalent to filling up two Empire State Buildings every 3 weeks.
Although landfills have been on a gradual annual decrease in the UK, plenty still needs to be done. If the 90% collection rate proposed by British Glass is achieved by 2030, it will significantly boost landfill reduction efforts. This considering that glass is non-biodegradable and a consistent environmental hazard for hundreds of years after its disposal.
Creation of Employment
Reprocessing jars and bottles requires glass manufacturers to create new job roles. Labour force is needed in all the phases of the glass recycling system, including emptying glass at recycling banks and cleaning it at the treatment plant.
For example, one of the largest independent glass recycling companies, Glass Recycling UK, has created over 70 jobs in their glass recycling depots all over the country.
The Different Types of Glass that can be Recycled
Not every type of glass can be reprocessed or recycled. Whether a type of glass is recyclable mainly depends on the manufacturing processes and the purity of the glass.
Recyclable glass items are made of soda-lime-silica. The soda in these glass products lowers the temperatures at which they melt. They are also not contaminated with other chemicals and materials. They include:
- Drinks and food containers.
- Fragrance jars.
- Moisturiser jars.
- Make-up jars.
The colour of the glass bottle or jar does not matter. They could be made of clear, brown, or green glass. Most recyclable glass collectors will differentiate the glass recycling bin by colour to help you know where to deposit them.
How to Recycle Glass
Although more economical than making glass from virgin materials, recycling of glass to make usable products is a long process. This process begins at your home and is completed at the glass recycling plant.
Recycling Glass at Home
Recycling at home mainly entails preparing glass for deposit at the recycling banks following these steps:
1. Familiarising with the guidelines of the local glass recycling centre. This means knowing what kind of glass is accepted for recycling and if the recycling centre accepts different colours.
2. Rinsing the glass bottles and jars. A recyclable container is not disqualified if you do not rinse it. However, rinsing prevents the contamination of other items.
3. Removing labels and non-glass material. Labels are usually removed during the recycling process at the glass treatment plant. However, you should check with your recycling centre as some require you to remove the labels. Also, non-glass materials should be removed from the bottle or jar, as they can cause contamination and make recycling difficult due to different melting points.
4. Sort the glass by colour. Green and brown glass has different additives, which also means a different process of recycling. Plans are underway to collect all three colours in a single stream to lift the sorting burden from the consumer.
5. Deposit glass bottles and jars at the recycling bank or centre. This is a civic duty that contributes to creating a greener world.
Glass Recycling at the Plant
At the recycling plant, the glass manufacturers follow these steps to reprocess the glass:
- Collect the glass from the recycling banks or kerbside. This is already sorted according to colour. Otherwise, it is sorted at the treatment plant.
- Wash and crush the glass. Washing removes any impurities before the glass is crushed into cullet.
- Eliminate any contaminants. Crushed cullet is passed through optical sorting machines that pick out any residue metals, plastics, papers, or ceramics. Sorting may also be done manually.
- Glass melting and colouring. Glass cullet is mixed with a bit of virgin sand, soda ash, and limestone. The glassmaking mix is then passed through a furnace and oxidised to give it the grey colour that is the base for adding other colours.
- Blowing the glass. This entails cutting the glass into pieces and moulding it into new bottles and jars through pressing and blowing.
- Quality testing. The new glass bottles and jars are tested for quality according to the standards of the glass packaging institute. If any defects are found, they are sent back for adjustments.
Once the quality of the recycled glass products is established, they are distributed to manufacturers for food, drinks, and other products’ glass packaging.
Where to Recycle Glass Bottles Near Me
The best way to know where to recycle glass bottles near you in the UK is to check with your local council. You can do this by phone or visiting the local council’s website. Some local councils provide email addresses to send enquiries on glass recycling or report filled-up recycling banks near you.
Other local governments list glass recycling locations or bottle banks on their websites. These lists have addresses and specifications on the type of glass you can recycle at the site. See, for example, the Ipswich Borough Council Glass recycling locations (bottle banks) website.
Information on where to recycle glass bottles near you can also be found on the websites of the UK’s representative of the glass industry, British Glass or on recycling campaigns websites like London Recycles. These allow you to key in your postcode to find places to recycle glass near you.
How You Can Help Increase Glass Recycling Rates
According to British Glass, increasing glass recycling rates in the UK relies on this combination of initiatives:
- Extended producer responsibility (EPR).
- Enhanced communication among stakeholders.
- Consistent collection at bottle banks and kerbsides.
- Working steadily towards recycling targets using initiatives such as strategically placing a bottle bank for 100 people.
Consumers can increase glass recycling rates by:
- Ensuring all recyclable glass containers are delivered to a collection location near you.
- Familiarising with glass recycling symbols in the UK. This reduces the contamination of recyclable materials at the collection points and makes the reprocessing procedure easier for the manufacturer.
Glass container packers, retailers, and fillers can also help increase glass recycling rates in the UK by:
- Sticking recycling symbols to remind consumers to recycle bottles and jars.
- Hosting glass recycling banks.
- Ensuring the message of glass reprocessing gets to and is practised by consumers.
Glass Recycling Tips
One of the key challenges in reprocessing glass containers is contamination. This mostly happens when consumers fail to follow the laid guidelines in differentiating glass types and avoid mixing glass waste with other recyclables or general waste material at the collection points.
As such, these 9 glass recycling tips come in handy in order to preserve your and everyone else’s noble intention of delivering glass in its best state for recycling.
- Rinse bottles and jars after emptying them of their contents. You don’t need to waste water and kitchen detergent to make the container spotlessly clean. Simply remove the drink or food remains.
- Leave recycled container glass with the lids on. This avoids contamination, and the caps are easily separated from the glass at the treatment plant.
- Always take refillable bottles, such as milk bottles, back to the supplier – these don’t need to be recycled.
- You don’t need to remove labels from waste containers, as these are also easily eliminated during the cleaning process.
- Wine bottle corks should be removed. Natural ones can be successfully composted at home.
- Sort glass according to colour codes at the recycling banks. Green and blue glass go together.
- Only deposit glass bottles and jars – never deposit items such as window glass or light bulbs. White opaque bottles (ones that you can’t see through) are not recyclable either.
- Drinks and food glass containers can be recycled endlessly. Also, pharmaceutical, fragrance, moisturiser, and make-up glass packaging are all generally recyclable. Check with your local council or glass recycling program if you are not sure.
- Pottery, crockery, or heat-resistant glass (such as Pyrex or Visionware) are not recyclable, if these materials are mixed up with glass bottles and jars it can cause a whole batch of cullet to be rejected.
- Do not place window panes, drinking glasses, glass cookware, light bulbs, or other electrical equipment in the kerbside container.
- Keep the area around bottle banks clean, and do not throw glass containers’ carrier bags or boxes into the recycling banks. Deposit these into nearby general waste bins.
- Always seek information about what and where to recycle when not sure. The less contaminated the glass is, the easier it is to recycle, and the more glass UK recycles, the more we get closer to the 90% glass recycling rate by 2030 and to a greener world!
Glass Recycling Questions
A 2020 glass recycling consumer perspective survey found that 48% of consumers in Wales and England would recycle glass more if they understood what goes where. This means that consumers still have multiple questions and doubts about glass waste. We address here a few of those questions and doubts.
How is glass recycled?
- Glass is collected from the bottle banks and each colour is kept separate. Clear, brown, green and blue glass can all be recycled. The blue glass should be placed in the green bottle bank.
- The glass is transported to the processing plant where contaminants such as metal caps and plastic sleeves are removed.
- The glass is then crushed and is now called “cullet”. It is ready to be transported to the glass factories.
- At the glass factory, the cullet is mixed with other raw materials used to make glass (sand, limestone and soda ash) and fed into a furnace where they are heated to around 1200ºC. The amount of cullet in the furnace depends on the availability of cullet of the right colour and quality. As much as 70% of the cullet is used to make new containers in the UK.
- The molten glass is moulded into new bottles and jars.
What happens to recycled glass?
The waste glass you deposit at glass materials recovery facilities is picked and transported to glass treatment centres. Here, it goes through different stages of the treatment process to remove non-glass materials such as paper labels, metal caps, and lids.
The recycled glass is then sorted by colour and cleaned of impurities. Next, it is crushed into glass cullet, melted, and remoulded into new glass containers and products.
What can be made from recycled glass?
Uncontaminated glass is infinitely recyclable and is used in closed-loop recycling, meaning that it is used to make the same product types. For example, recycled clear glass bottles make other clear liquor bottles and coloured old bottles other similar container glass bottles.
Recycled glass is also used to make a wide range of glass packaging and products, including:
- New glass food and drink containers.
- Window glass.
- Glass beads.
If recycled glass quality is poor and has too much non-glass material, it can still be used in open-loop recycling to make building materials such as concrete and Eco-cements.
What glass cannot be recycled?
There are several glass types that cannot be recycled depending on their purity and the heating and treatment process.
These glass types cannot be recycled:
- Objects made of borosilicate glass because they are created to withstand high temperatures and don’t melt easily in a furnace. They include glass ovenware (Pyrex), cookware, drinking glasses, glass plates, heatproof jugs, and flower vases.
- Heatproof waste glass that contains metallic components such as light bulbs.
- Glass that is treated or laminated to toughen it, such as window glasses.
- Glass that has a metallic coating, such as mirrors and spectacles.
- Glass that may have been contaminated by the contents, such as a nail polish glass bottle.
Note that many of these glass objects can be recycled at home as decoration objects or storage recycled container glass.
What can you do with broken glass?
Delivering broken glass for recycling depends on local council guidelines. Some local councils will accept broken glass for recycling if it is directly delivered to a glass recycling centre. Others will not accept it as it can be a risk for workers.
When not recycled, broken glass should be wrapped with newspaper or placed in a cardboard box before being disposed of in the green bin.
Check the standing guidelines for glass waste with your local council or independent recycling company to be sure about your case.
What percentage of glass is recycled in the UK?
Although way below other European countries, the UK has improved its ranking on the Global Waste Index from 20th position in 2019 to 18th in 2022. This improvement is also reflected in the percentage of glass recycled in the UK, which has gone up from 72.5% in 2019 to the current 76.5%.
The percentage of waste glass recycled in the UK would go up if the confusion around what is recyclable and how it should be sorted at the recycling banks was eliminated.
How do I dispose of a broken mirror?
Mirrors have a metallic coating and cannot be recycled with other quality glass. To dispose of a broken mirror in the UK, safely wrap the pieces with newspaper or cardboard and dispose of them in the green bin.
Note that broken mirrors can go through a different process to create mosaics and candle holders or be repurposed as hand-held mirrors. If you know charity organisations or recycling agents that use them for these purposes, you can recycle broken mirrors with them.
How do I dispose of glass windows?
Most recycling centres in the UK have recycling spots for other materials that cannot be recycled as pure glass, including glass windows. Recycled glass windows can be ground and used to make concrete or cement.
You should check with the recycling centre near you if you can deliver glass windows for recycling before showing up.