The title of this post about green glass recycling is derived by a 1970s era song by The Outlaws, entitled “Green Grass and High Tides.” No, they really do not have anything to do with each other, except the fact that I was trying to come up with a catchy title for the post.
I am an avid recycler, as I believe most people would be given the chance. Not only do I place two bins of recycling out at the curb every two weeks, but other items that are accepted at recycling centers are dropped off on a regular basis. Lastly, I dig through the garbage bins at work and pull out items that should have been put in a recycling container.
The one item that many people use that does not seem to have a market in most of Michigan is green glass. I do not know if this a common problem nationwide or not. Every now and then there will be an area recycling event that takes green glass, but for the most part the only outlet for green glass I have seen is for use by craft makers.
This conundrum troubles me. Why on earth is there no market for recycled green glass? There are certainly enough products that come in green glass, especially wines, but also certain beers like Yuengling’s Light (my personal favorite), Heineken, and Little Kings, as well as products like Real Lemon juice. Soft drinks like 7up, Sprite, Canada Dry, and Vernor’s are easily recognizable by their green glass bottles; that is when you can find them sold in bottle.s According to Earth911, green glass has the following properties:
Green glass is colored by adding metals such as iron, chromium or copper to the molten glass during production. Green glass has more variety of shades than any other color, making it a popular color choice for bottles. It also helps keeps sunlight and temperature from affecting the contents inside.
Here are some interesting and very positive facts from Earth911 about glass recycling in general:
80: Percentage of glass that is estimated to be recycled into new containers.
3.0 million: Amount, in tons, of glass that was recovered for recycling in 2009 according to the U.S. EPA.
80: Approximate percentage of glass beverage containers in California that gets recycled, mostly due to bottle bills that encourage recycling by offering refunds for glass bottles.
30: Length, in minutes, that the energy from recycling one glass bottle can power a computer.
50: Percentage of recycled material that glass manufacturers plan to use in the production of new glass bottles by the end of 2013. This step will save enough energy to power 45,000 households for a year, and 181,550 tons of waste from landfills each month.
20: Amount, in tons, of color-sorted glass that a typical glass processing facility can recycle per hour.
So, with all these common products and great reuses for glass, why is the market for green glass so variable? The conspiracy theorist in me thinks this is because the bottle manufacturers do not want to go to the cost to recycle the glass into new bottles or products. Apparently, at least here in Michigan the issue has mostly to do with supply and demand, though my concern about cost is a factor.
In an excellent story entitled “Green glass glut grows worrisome,” from October 2009 in the Great Lakes Echo, more green glass comes into the state than we know what to do with it. While Michigan has a fairly significant wine industry, the amount of green glass coming into the state is more than they need. It also notes that the cost to recycle green glass is higher than clear glass.
I guess my follow-up question to this is, why can’t waste/recycling companies market and export the excess green glass from Michigan? There are certainly plenty of users of green glass around the USA and the world. Perhaps I am naive and it is a case of pure economics. But, what does not make sense to me is the fact that several cities in Indiana take green glass for recycling, while Indiana has nowhere near the wine industry that Michigan does. Am I missing something?
If green glass is so darn difficult to recycle, then maybe as consumers we need to re-think our product choices. Next time you are in the store, base a portion of your purchase decision on the container the product is packaged or bottled in. If it is green glass and your community does not recycle green glass, do not buy it. Choose brown or clear glass instead. Hate to say this, but it may even be better to buy it in plastic, as long as the plastic is recyclable.
That may be an oversimplification, but personally, I think as consumers we have a heck of a lot of power with our purchase decisions and it is high time we start using the power of the pocketbook. It’s just a matter of follow through. According to Earth911, 80 percent of glass containers are recycled in the United States. With some effort, I bet we can push that number much closer to 100 percent. And wouldn’t that be a grand accomplishment to cheer about!