In our previous blog post, we discussed the critical importance of a zero-waste approach. Reducing waste as much as possible is the best way to prevent water and land pollution and cut down carbon emissions. And here is where upcycled items come into play! Upcycling can be a powerful tool to transform waste into functional, original, and beautiful creations.
What about glass waste?
As for glass, the situation is quite controversial. On one side, glass is almost perpetual: it can take 4000 years or more for a glass bottle to decompose. And even more, in the landfill.
Even though glass is among the few materials that can be recycled seamlessly, Americans throw out enough glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper every month. In 2018, the US generated 12.25 million tons of glass, and 7.6 million tons hit landfills.
The amount of glass waste comes as a surprise since nowadays, making new glass generally includes recycled glass in the recipe. Not only recycling conserves our finite natural resources (sand, sodium bicarbonate, and limestone), but it also helps to avoid many metric cubic tons of landfills. And even thousands if we reused, repurposed, and upcycled all those jars and bottles!
Upcycling at scale can prevent 7 million tons of glass from disposal
How much glass is recycled in the USA?
US Recycling programs collect bottles and jars. After crushing them up, containers become Cullet, a granular material apt for remelting. Cullet is then mixed with sand, limestone, and other raw materials to obtain the molten glass used to manufacture new glass items. The Glass Packaging Institute stated that in 2018, recycled glass containers amounted to 3 million tons in the US -that's only 24% of the glass MSW generated, namely, 12.25 million tons.
And even though Energy recovery is the least preferred waste management practice regarding environmental impact, and glass is fully recyclable, 1.6 million tons of glass were combusted to produce energy.
We could dramatically reduce glass waste and carbon emissions if we improved our efforts in collecting, reusing, upcycling, and recycling with a zero-waste target in mind.
What if we rescued 7 million tons of glass items?
The EPA relies on a fantastic tool, the Waste Reduction Model (WARM), to calculate carbon emissions produced in each industry. Per each ton of material produced, glass releases 0.53 metric tons of carbon emissions equivalents into the atmosphere.
Let's figure out different scenarios for these 7 million tons of glass that end in US landfills, considering 2018 data.
- Landfilling: The actual scenario (7 million tons of glass items ending in landfills) produces 141,781.58 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) over time.
- Combustion: If we combusted 7 million tons of glass items to recover energy, instead of reducing emissions, we would be adding up 46,140.56 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E), which equals those from 9796 Passenger Vehicles.
- Recycling: If we opted for recycling all the glass items that currently end in landfills, we could prevent 2074412.82 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E) from entering the atmosphere -that would equal removing annual emissions from 440,427 Passenger Vehicles!
- Reuse and Upcycling: Let's suppose all these glass items were reused or upcycled instead of landfilling them. In this case, emissions could decrease dramatically: we would avoid 3,715,745.79 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E)! The impact would be such as removing annual emissions from 819,007 Passenger Vehicles. The best scenario, isn't it?
What if the US swapped to upcycled glassware?
At Neutrall, we've taken this challenge: to upcycle at least a part of those 7.6 million tons of glass bottles and jars. We aim to rescue bottles before they hit the landfill and turn them into functional, beautiful glassware.
What would be the impact if we grew this wave?
- We would be reducing 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere.
- We would be promoting a circular economy.
- We would be supporting US manufacturing and creating jobs for the American people.
- Sustainable glassware would become the norm in our economy.
Be part of the solution!
We all know climate change triggers anxiety, fear, and all the possible shades of concern for our future and the coming generations. But when it comes to glass, upcycling and recycling is the right way to do something about pollution, tackle global warming, and build a healthier and happier community.
At Neutrall, we support sustainability by upcycling glass at scale, and we hope Americans see this value and join the wave!