We Are Glass

And lo a matter of days after the delivery of a glass recycle box the first collection occurred early today. A lone advance bin man (or garbologist as some may now classify him) moved alone and on foot with a large black bin (or ‘otto’ as they call them in Australia) and proceeded to noisily empty each glass bin contents into the larger black bin which he then wheeled away and out of the close to, I presume, an agreed collection point.Glass mobile

Glass is a very good choice for recycling as its structure does not deteriorate when reprocessed and up to 80% of the original material is suitable for using in new glass which helps reduce the total CO2 footprint for raw glass production. Glass accounts for around 7% of the total household waste composition.

Britain currently recycles around 34% of glass which is poor when compared to Switzerland and Finland achieve rates of around 90%.

Recycling two bottles saves enough energy to boil water for five cups of tea.


Photo by Lady Ema under this creative commons license

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One thought on “We Are Glass

  1. There is something about recycling that never gets mentioned. I wonder whether this is because I have misunderstood the concept or because no one has noticed what – to me, poor fool that I am – seems obvious.

    Imagine a wine bottle made from new glass. It is used and recycled. Well, 80% is recycled. So eventually, the bottle will disappear and a new one will have to be made. So the original glass will eventually all get thrown away and new glass will replace it. Are you with me so far?

    Once recycling is in full swing, glass will be disappearing at the same rate at which it disappeared before recycling started. New glass will be being made at the same rate as before recycling started. We will have gained nothing. Each piece of glass, via recycling, will last longer but that’s not really the point.

    To see what I mean, consider a queue at the post office. Let’s say customers are dealt with on average one every 3 minutes and there are 4 clerks. The queue can be long or it can be short but the throughput doesn’t change. Customers are still being “used” at the rate of 4 every 3 minutes. The only difference is how long they remain in the queue.

    By recycling, you lengthen the “queue” that the glass joins in order to disappear. You can make that queue as long as you like (recycling a piece of glass many times) but the throughput remains the same. Glass continues to disappear at the same rate.

    The same is true of paper, recyclable clothing etc. In the long run, the throughput remains the same, so what benefit do we derive?

    If it costs less in terms of energy to make a bottle out of recycled glass than out of new glass, that would seem to be a gain but remember that each piece of glass is being reformed many times and therefore eventually absorbs much more energy than a piece of throwaway glass.

    Nor do we gain by having smaller piles of landfill because that 20% that doesn’t get recycled has to go somewhere and the whole bottle eventually becomes part of the successive 20% lumps.

    The way to save glass and the energy of manufacture is to reuse glass containers. Instead of throwing our glass into the recycling bin, we should keep it and get it refilled in the shop as we used to. I remember taking a bottle to the corner shop to have a pint of vinegar put in it. During the WWII, they knew nothing about “recycling” but they knew a lot about saving things and reusing them.

    We have a local shop called Unpacked. I can take my empty washing-up liquid bottle to them and have it refilled. The drum of washing-up liquid in the shop is returned to the factory to be refilled and brought back to the shop. No recycling needed.

    As Mr Punch always said: “That’s the way to do it!”

    If we want to consider ourselves ecologically mature, we still have a long way to go. Recycling may make us feel good but it isn’t a solution.

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