Not all glass is equal in that sometimes it’s not recyclable. Brown, green and clear glass are the most commonly recycled types but if the glass is contaminated with food or dirt then it can’t be processed at the recycling facility.
Similarly, heat resistant glass such as ovenware and Pyrex, as well as mirrors and crystal, are not recyclable. The waste facility will also discard broken shards of glass, decorative glass that contains multiple colours, or glass that contains metal such as light bulbs.
So, what happens to all these items if they can’t be recycled? The obvious choice is to reuse or repurpose them. This is where innovation comes in handy, and some companies have found clever uses for unwanted glass.
Using glass for construction
Some construction companies have started to use “glassphalt” in their projects. Glass is ground down into smaller pieces and smoothed off to create a replacement for gravel or sand, depending on the coarseness of the grain.
This glassphalt has been used to construct roadbeds in the United Kingdom. Reusing glass in such a way has a double financial benefit; it makes use of glass that would otherwise end up in a landfill at the taxpayer’s expense, and it saves money as it replaces the gravel used for certain construction projects.
The glass gravel is just as safe for use on roads as regular granite, and studies have shown that it is less susceptible to frost and extreme temperatures than normal gravel. It is better able to handle the expansion and contraction of road surfaces during temperature shifts, which could be useful in areas such as the Karoo.
In a similar method, glass can be ground into a fine sand and used to create filler materials such as concrete. This aggregate can also be combined with foam to create a lightweight filler for insulation and foundation construction.
Repurposing glass in the home
If you know that your household glass cannot be recycled, a great option is to find another creative use for it. Old windows can be used as picture frames or small glass greenhouses for herbs.
Broken shards of coloured glass can be used for DIY mosaic projects such as coffee tables or picture frames. You can also create homemade chimes from broken glass and old bottles. Old Consol jars can be cleaned and reused for the storage of tea bags, coffee or sugar. They can also be turned into quirky lights by inserting bulbs or tea candles, or used as icy drink containers for a summer afternoon.
Chutney jars can be turned into bird feeders or nectar dispensers for sunbirds. Wine bottles can be used for candle holders. Essentially, the limits to repurposing old household glass are as endless as your creativity.
Why repurposing may be a better option than recycling
Even though some of your household glass may be recycled, you may want to consider finding other uses for them first. Although it is readily recyclable, glass can be tricky to handle, sort and separate by colour.
To recycle glass, a high degree of purity is required. One contaminated jar or bottle cap can spoil an entire batch of recycling. This makes the recycling process more expensive. Simply finding alternative uses at home for old glass may be a better option than recycling.
Either way, the environmental benefits of repurposing or recycling are far better than sending the glass to a landfill. Recycling still consumes less energy than creating new glass products from scratch.
Averda is a leading waste management provider with over 50 years of experience across three continents. Through growth, transformation and engagement, we strive to find new ways of managing waste while protecting the community and environment.
By pairing international expertise with local insights, we have secured our position as one of South Africa’s most respected providers of waste management and industrial cleaning services. We also operate in the recycling, infrastructure inspection, hydro-demolition, high-pressure water jetting and catalyst handling industries.
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