What do you do with broken glass? Do you throw it away or recycle it? Is all glass treated equally? Well, you might think, glass jars and containers are recyclable, so broken glass should be too. Or is it?
Unfortunately, broken glass is NOT recyclable, for a number of reasons. Let’s start by looking at types of glass and discover why they need to be kept out of the blue bin.
Not all glass is the same. For example, window glass, mirrors and light bulbs contain chemicals that make them unsuitable for reuse at your recycling plant. Broken window and mirror glass can still be repurposed, however, so do a bit of research before you chuck them in the trash. Look for local industrial manufacturers that accept broken glass – some facilities convert it into building materials, fiberglass and asphalt.
Note that depending on the type, light bulbs may require special treatment. Incandescent and halogen lights usually go into the trash. Compact florescent bulbs contain materials that need to be processed differently, and they are included in your local Household Hazard Waste (HHW) program. They must be taken to a local HHW drop-off facility or saved for a recycling event.
Wine and drinking glasses
Broken wine or drinking glasses present a different problem altogether. Drinking glasses have a different chemical composition and melting point compared to container glass. Mixing the two together can cause abnormalities and fracture points in newly recycled glass, making it hazardous and unreliable. Broken wine and drinking glasses should always be wrapped and thrown in the trash. Of course, if your drinking glasses are unbroken and reusable, repurpose or donate them.
If you can’t find an industrial depot and you put your garbage out in plastic bags, wrap your non-HHW glass carefully in paper and place it in the garbage. Make sure it is wrapped securely enough to keep pieces from fall out, and use tape or string to keep the paper in place if necessary. The idea is to prevent handlers or passers-by from getting hurt. If you leave your garbage out in a cart or can, place the loose pieces fully within the bin and make sure they can’t fall out.
And what about that broken container glass? It presents a potential hazard for you and for waste handlers, so dispose of it in the garbage too. As with unconventional glass, wrap the fragments in paper and seal them tight if you use plastic bags.
The bottom line is that recycling companies do not accept broken container glass. It presents a potential hazard to handlers, and recycling facilities are often not equipped to remove tiny pieces of broken glass from other recyclables. Broken glass also presents a major safety concern for the workers sorting the material.
Note: Other alternatives include contacting your local bottle-bank and inquiring if they accept broken bottles. Or reuse the fragments in a creative craft project.
At the end of the day, make sure to check with your local program to see how they'd like you to handle broken glass. While many do not accept it, there are some exceptions. If you want to know what's what and your city is currently a part of our network, feel free to download our app.