Why Glass Recycling Needs a Makeover

← all posts
Have you ever wondered how glass is recycled and what makes it so valuable?
← all posts

Glass is a versatile material that can be indefinitely recycled, creating new products time and time again. Imagine being able to use the same container for a million years, without it breaking down or degrading. That’s exactly what glass can do!

The glass recycling process is one that many people are unaware of, with complex and intricate procedures required to successfully create new products. Keep reading as we walk you through the current curbside glass recycling system, highlighting each important aspect, and illuminating why glass recycling needs a full make-over. 

  

How is glass recycled in the curbside system? 1. Mixed recycling is collected from curbside bins. 2. Once at the recycling sorting center (MRF), glass is sorted out from other recyclables. 3. It's sent to a glass processing plant to be sorted by color, crushed, cleaned, and labels & lids are removed. The final result is glass cullet. 4. The cullet is sent to manufacturers where it is mixed with glass ingredients to create new glass containers.

What Is Cullet?

Glass recycling facilities break down our glass containers into smaller pieces, before separating contaminants and filtering the particles into sections depending on color. This broken-down glass is called cullet and is vital to the glass recycling process. 

Up to 95%1 of cullet can be combined with other materials, namely soda ash, limestone, and more silica, to replace the virgin production materials. For every 10% of cullet added into the glassmaking process, the amount of energy required for manufacturing falls by 3%2, compared to using virgin materials. 

A Note on Broken Glass

The first thing that glass recycling plants do is smash that glass! 

However, broken glass is not accepted by most curbside recycling systems, mainly because it is seen as a contaminant, getting mixed in with other materials, stuck in paper & cardboard, and therefore hard to remove.

While broken glass may technically be recyclable, the curbside system is not equipped to handle and sort fragmented pieces. Thus broken glass cannot be recycled curbside. 

If you are interested in recycling your broken glass, some glass processing plants accept it, but you would be required to manually transport the glass there.  

A curbside recycling truck collecting recyclable materials from your recycling bin.

Heading to the Material Recovery Facility
(aka MRF)

It’s a bit of a mystery as to what happens to our recycled materials once they are picked up from their curbside bin. Did you know, that all the items that we put in our curbside bin, don’t actually get recycled?! Only about 24%1 of glass containers are recycled through the curbside system! 

The curbside system works in a specific order: once picked up from your bins, the materials are then sent to a materials recovery facility (or MRF), to be sorted and any glass is then shipped to a glass processing plant. 

Once the glass has arrived at a glass recycling facility, all the different types of glass are broken down into small fragments (aka cullet). Once broken into cullet, the glass is then loaded onto a conveyor belt to be sorted. 

Since the cullet is crushed before the sorting process, a percentage of the original glass material is lost. This is due to fragments being broken down into pieces that are too small to be detected by optical sensors.

Sorting Matters!

Glass processing plants use large magnets to pull out any metal contaminants that might have found their way into the mix. Those metal pieces would then be recycled separately. The cullet is then sifted through a large filter to remove other contaminants such as labels, plastic, or paper that are typically found on glass containers collected for recycling. 

Next, the glass passes through optical and UV light sensors, sorting the cullet by color. This sorting step is necessary so any cullet added to the remelt furnace doesn’t negatively impact the final color of the new product. 

Having to sort glass this far along in the recycling process is one of the reasons why more glass containers aren’t actually recycled. The Lasso solves this problem from the very start, ensuring that your materials are sorted first by type and color, in your home, before any other part of the recycling process. 

This way the Lasso domestic recycling appliance can guarantee that your glass containers are 100% closed-loop recycled.

Three different colors of closed-loop recyclable glass: flint, amber, and green.

Wait, it’s Color Coordinated?

Different additives give glass its unique colors, which is why each color of glass must be recycled separately. Once sorted, the glass can be remanufactured with like colors.

First, the glass is separated into different categories depending on the color; clear glass is called flint, brown is amber, and green is green. Other colors of glass may be technically recyclable materials, but most plants do not accept them largely due to the small volume of individual colors inevitably makes the recycling process too expensive.

Most plants will build mountains of glass piles in each color shade, that way they can take some cullet, place it into the furnace, and begin to re-melt it to make a new product. This results in new glass containers from the previously recycled glass material. 

Some facilities will even grind the cullet into a fine powder to sell to construction companies to use as sand, this is a process called downcycling.

What’s so Bad About Downcycling?

In order to recycle the glass as efficiently and effectively as possible, we work towards what is called a closed-loop system. 

Recycled materials in a closed-loop system are reproduced into an end product of equal or similar value, ensuring that they are not downcycled into road base or another byproduct. Road base is when a variety of different materials are combined and compacted together to build the base for strong, hard surfaces such as roads or sidewalks. 

Downcycling may not seem so bad, but in reality, it is a waste of perfectly valuable resources that could have been transformed into a product of equal value. When closed-loop recycled, glass can be recycled indefinitely, whereas downcycling means the material is unlikely to ever be recycled again. 

Allowing these valuable resources to be downcycled, or sent to a landfill is literally throwing money away.

The Pitfalls of Curbside Recycling

An aspect contributing to the failure of the curbside system stems from the quality and weight of the material generally produced, as well as the facility location. Interestingly enough, when an MRF is in close proximity to the processor and the re-melt furnace, it’s still economically viable to recycle glass. Otherwise, the transportation distance between can be too great, and the glass ends up taking a negative value.

With 44 glass manufacturing plants operating out of 21 states, as well as 63 beneficiating, or glass processing plants in 30 states1, it’s no wonder that this is an issue. In other words, some states have processors, but no glass manufacturers and vice versa. When there isn’t a location to process or manufacture glass within a reasonable distance, the recycling process is no longer financially viable.

Showing how glass is closed-loop recycled with the Lasso.

The Magic of Lasso

This is where Lasso Loop Recycling comes in. We are building an at-home, domestic recycling appliance that effectively closed-loop recycles the seven most impactful household recyclables. 

Not only does the Lasso empower manufacturers to closed-loop recycle PET, HDPE plastics, and metal cans, but it also facilitates the manufacturers to closed-loop recycle the three most common glass colors — clear, brown, and green. The appliance is able to successfully scan, clean, process into cullet, and store the glass separately in color-coordinated storage containers. This is ensuring that the end-product purity is of the highest value and avoids any unnecessary contamination.

The Lasso delivers the benefits of a full-scale recycling process, with none of the value-destroying disadvantages, all while being condensed into the comfort of your home. Once your used recyclables are processed and the storage bays are filled, a pick-up can be easily scheduled at your convenience on the Lasso app. These valuable Lasso end-products are then sold to manufacturers to begin as a new product all over again. 

Doing your part to slow the impact of climate change shouldn’t feel so daunting, and Lasso Loop is working to take the guesswork out of our recycling system.

Stay updated on all things Lasso & the latest recycling knowledge by following us on Instagram and signing up for our newsletter today! ♻️

Interested in learning more about how glass is made and what makes that process so unique? Check out our other blog on glass manufacturing!

Sources:
1.
https://www.gpi.org/glass-recycling-facts
2.
https://cen.acs.org/materials/inorganic-chemistry/glass-recycling-US-broken/97/i6

Abigail Holt // 05 May 2022

Join the
recycling
revolution

Meet Lasso  ➤
Lasso Logo
Lasso Logo