Break into Recycling with Glass
If you’ve never recycled before and just want to test the water before you take the plunge, glass bottles and jars are a good place to start. Not only is it easy for you, the consumer, to recycle glass, but there is also no doubt that it is good for the environment since glass is completely recyclable and can be recycled an infinite number of times. Using recycled glass in place of raw materials also saves energy. Every time you throw a glass bottle in the recycling bin it is equivalent to turning off a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. Recycling glass is better for our air and water, too, producing 20 percent less air pollution and 50 percent less water pollution than making glass from new materials.
In Mariposa County, all you have to do to recycle glass is separate clear glass, such as peanut butter and mayonnaise jars, from colored, such as wine bottles and remove the lids. Recycled glass is crushed, cleaned, mixed with raw materials as needed and melted at high temperatures to make new glass. If colored glass is mixed in with clear, it contaminates the mixture by creating an unwanted tint.
Unlike plastics, there is no need to clean glass bottles and jars first or to remove labels (unless you want to recycle the paper, which will otherwise be dumped into a landfill somewhere). For your own sake, however, you may want to rinse them out so that you can store them without worrying about unpleasant odors and pests.
Some glass bottles are redeemable for cash, so check the label for the “CA CRV REFUND” imprint. If you don’t want the money, you can donate it to one of several local non-profit organizations, including the SPCA, the library, and No More Victims. Just let the recycling attendant know where you would like your contribution to go.
The recycling center does not accept non-food grade glass, such as Pyrex dishes, glass pots and pans, windows, mirrors, eyeglasses drinking glasses, decorative glassware and ceramics. These are made from various combinations of chemicals that differ from the soda/lima/silica formula that is used for bottles and jars. If any of these specialty glasses are mixed in with food-grade glass, they will contaminate the entire load. The recyclers who buy the materials from recycling centers such as Mariposa’s do not look favorably on contaminated loads and may reject them outright if it happens on a regular basis.
The average American uses about 85 pounds of glass each year and could save seven or more pounds per month by recycling, reducing and reusing. More than 10 million tons of glass containers are made every year in this country. If all of those containers were made from raw materials, their manufacture would produce almost two million tons of waste. Replacing half of the raw materials with recycled glass would reduce the amount of waste by 80 percent to about 400,000 pounds.
And if you think you can throw your beer bottles out in the woods because they’ll eventually decompose (since they’re made from natural materials)--think again. Those bottles will still be a blight on the landscape 4,000 years from now. They would likely take even longer to degrade in a landfill, since landfills lack air and water.
Glass has been around since the beginning of time, occurring naturally when lightening penetrates sand and melts the particles into thin tubes known as fulgurites, and when volcanoes erupt, sometimes producing obsidian. Humans discovered how to make glass accidentally around 5000 BC, when blocks of nitrate placed near a cooking fire melted into the sand below. It was not until 1880 that glass jars and bottles began to be used commercially for food preservation, however, an innovation that exploded into an expectation after the invention of a glass shaping machine by Michael Owen in 1904. Glass remained the material of choice for containing all manner of products for the next half-century, when plastics began to dominate the packaging market.