Glass is composed of a variety of materials including sand, soda ash, limestone, pot ash, lead, cobalt, and sulfur. The components are subjected to temperatures of over 2500 degrees Fahrenheit (1500 degrees + Celsius) at which the mixture assumes a molten state. Then the glass is wrought into the desired form. Though finished glass is inert and non-toxic, the manufacturing process can damage ecosystems and threaten human health. In order to extract the glass’ raw materials, industry harvests nonrenewable resources and generates significant waste and pollution. Glass’ formation process also uses high amounts of energy derived from fossil fuels and other nonrenewable resources. Though it is one of the easier materials to recycle, not all glass can be remanufactured: when it is used in combination with other materials, separation becomes cost prohibitive.
It is best to buy glass made from post-consumer recycled material which can itself be recycled. Though clear plastics and other chemical compounds can substitute for some glass products, they are not necessarily a better choice because these products are less likely to be made from recycled material and less likely to be recyclable. This being said, it is a good idea to put your decision into the context of durability. It is better to buy a plastic product once than to buy a glass product that breaks and needs replacing many times over.
- Buy glass containing the highest degree of recycled content
- Buy glass products that can be recycled
- Consider plastic alternatives and the like in cases where durability is an issue
For consumers of glass products the best practice is to follow responsible purchasing guidelines: look for recycled content and buy the most sustainable plastic alternative when recycled options do not exist or where durability is a factor. More active steps include applying political, legal, and community pressure on producers in order to promote the development and implementation of more sustainable production processes. Producers of products that incorporate glass can make positive change by sourcing recycled glass and by demanding environmental and human health precautions from their supply chain partners. Finally, members of the extraction and processing industries can design production systems that account for the full impacts of operation, which minimizes waste and pollution and protects surrounding ecological habitats.