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For centuries, glass has served as a universal packaging container, holding precious commodities like wine and olive oil. Today, manufacturers use glass to hold everything from soda and peanut butter to champagne and perfume. Glass manufacturers and consumers continue to appreciate glass for its aesthetic value but also recognize its practicality. The glass in many items, from your soda bottle to your computer, can be recycled over and over while retaining its strength.

Just the Facts

    ◦    Americans generated 11.5 million tons of glass in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream in 2010.
    ◦    About 33 percent of the 11.5 million tons of glass was recovered for recycling.
    ◦    Recovery increased from 750,000 tons in 1980 to more than 3 million tons in 2010.
    ◦    Soft drink, beer, food, wine, and liquor containers represent the largest source of glass generated and recovered for recycling.
    ◦    Glass in durable goods, such as furniture, appliances, and especially consumer electronics, round out the sources of postconsumer glass.

Recycling Glass

The glass containing your soda today might be the glass containing your spaghetti sauce tomorrow. That's because glass, especially glass food and beverage containers, can be recycled over and over again. In fact, 90 percent of recycled glass is used to make new containers. Other uses for recycled glass include kitchen tiles, counter tops, and wall insulation. Glass makers have always known the material's recyclability, but glass recycling has grown considerably in recent years. This growth is due to both increased collection through curbside recycling programs and glass manufacturers' increased demand for recycled glass.

Today, most glass manufacturers rely on a steady supply of recycled crushed glass, known as "cullet," to supplement raw materials. To make glass, manufacturers mix sand, soda ash, limestone, and cullet; heat the mixture to a temperature of 2,600 to 2,800 degrees F; and mold it into the desired shape. Sand is the only material used in greater volumes than cullet to manufacture glass.

Using cullet saves money and helps the environment, because:

    ◦    Cullet costs less than raw materials.
    ◦    Cullet prolongs furnace life since it melts at a lower temperature.
    ◦    Cullet demands less energy from power sources like electricity, natural gas, and coal.
    ◦    Less energy used means reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, both greenhouse gases.