Is Glass Biodegradable, Is it Better than Plastic (And Why)?

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Stephanie Cole
With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of sustainable living. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies.
Stephanie Cole
Updated: March 19, 2024

If you're like most environmentally conscious people, you probably want to do everything you can to reduce your impact on the planet. That includes buying products made from environmentally friendly materials, and keeping your waste out of landfills.

One common question I hear a lot is: is glass biodegradable? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is no.

But that doesn't mean that glass is bad for the environment. It all depends on how you use it and how you dispose of it.

Here's what you need to know.

What is Glass Made From?

how glass is made

Glass is a material that has been used by humans for centuries. It is made from a variety of natural minerals, including sand, limestone, and soda ash.

These raw materials are melted together at high temperatures to form molten glass. The glass is then cooled and formed into the desired shape.

Today, glass is used in a wide range of applications, from windows and doors to drinking glasses and food packaging.

Thanks to its versatility and durability, glass has become an essential part of our everyday lives.

Is Glass Biodegradable and Compostable?

No, glass is not biodegradable.

Glass is essentially melted sand, which is a natural material, so many people assume that it must be biodegradable and compostable. But that isn't the case.

The process of turning sand into glass involves high temperatures and during this process, the raw material undergoes a chemical transformation which renders the resulting product non-biodegradable.

In order for a substance to biodegrade, you need to have bacteria and micro-organisms that will ingest it to help break it down into its constituent parts. Since no organism is able to absorb glass, this process cannot take place.

However, glass is technically compostable, as it will eventually break down. However, this process may take so long that there is no way we can call glass biodegradable.

How long does glass take to biodegrade?

Glass wasn't designed to break down easily, and it doesn't. That's why we're still finding glass artifacts from ancient Egypt still intact.

It is thought that a modern glass bottle could take as much as 4000 years to decompose [source] and will never fully biodegrade. If it was in a landfill, it could take even longer.

That's why recycling glass bottles is so important.

Is Glass Recyclable?

Yes, glass is both recyclable and reusable.

Glass is a material that can be recycled over and over again without any loss in quality. In fact, recycling glass helps to conserve energy and resources, since it takes less energy to melt down recycled glass than it does to create new glass from scratch.

However, not all types of glass can be recycled together. For example, the glass used in light bulbs, mirrors, ovenware, Pyrex, and window glass is produced in a different way and should not be put in the same container as your glass bottles and glass jars.

Glass containers such as these, which can't be added to other recycled glass, can instead be “downcycled” into other products such as fiberglass insulation or sandblasting grit.

Therefore, it’s important to check with your local recycling center to see what types of glass they accept.

recycling glass

How can I recycle glass?

Recycling glass helps to save energy and precious natural resources, and it also reduces carbon dioxide emissions and pollution.

There are a few different ways to recycle glass.

One option is to take your glass bottles and jars to a local recycling center. Many communities have facilities that accept glass for recycling.

Alternatively, you can check with your local waste management company to see if they have a glass recycling program. Some companies will pick up glass separately from other trash and recycle it accordingly.

Finally, you can also reuse glass at home instead of recycling it. Glass jars with a lid need not be thrown away, they have many other uses around the house. Use them for storing food, liquids, or any other items you can think of.

Can broken glass be recycled?

In theory, all types of glass can be recycled. However, typically local authorities and recycling centers do not accept broken glass because it can be dangerous for workers.

It's also difficult for the recycling facility to sort it into colors.

So you shouldn't put any broken glass in the recycling bin with your other glass bottles and containers.

However, recycled glass can still be used for various purposes even if it is broken, so there is no need for it to end up in a landfill.

The best thing to do is to collect up any broken glass (using a suitable pair of protective gloves) and then put it in a strong cardboard box. Then contact your local recycling center and see if they will accept it, and if not they can usually recommend someone who will.

Is Glass Eco-Friendly?

Even though glass is not biodegradable, it can still be considered eco-friendly. There are several good reasons for this:

  • The manufacturing process is becoming more efficient, meaning less energy is used and the carbon footprint is lower.
  • Glass products are easily and commonly recycled. In fact, it is one of the most recyclable materials in use today.
  • Glass is not derived from fossil fuels. It does not contain harmful chemicals that can leach into our food.
  • Because glass doesn't break down like plastic bottles do, it doesn't get ingested by animals and marine life, and therefore doesn't end up in our own food chain.

Glass is a good option for those looking to live a zero-waste lifestyle because it can be easily cleaned and reused almost indefinitely.

That's one of the reasons it's popular for products such as healthy drink bottles, because, unlike plastic bottles, they can last a lifetime.

Is glass worse than plastic?

No, glass is certainly better for the environment than plastic.

Unlike glass, not all plastic is recyclable, and many types of plastic are rarely recycled even when it is possible. Plastic also cannot be endlessly recycled like glass can.

Furthermore, when plastic breaks down it contaminates the natural environment, clogs up the ocean, kills animals and marine life, and gets into our food and water supplies. The plastic pollution statistics bear this out.

Read more about why plastic bags and plastic bottles are bad for the environment in the articles below:

Glass may not be perfect but the environmental impact of plastic is far worse.

The Final Word

Glass is a great material for eco-friendly products and packaging - a far better option than plastic at any rate.

It is made of natural materials, it can be recycled or reused, and it does not release harmful chemicals into the environment.

If you are looking for an environmentally friendly product to buy and wondering what sort of material it should come in, glass should be at the top of your list.

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Stephanie Cole
Stephanie Cole
With her Master of Science in Renewable Energy Engineering (MSREE) from Oregon Tech, Steph is supremely well qualified to write on all aspects of sustainable living. She has already achieved a zero carbon footprint and her goal is to help as many other people as possible do the same. Her other hobbies include music, yoga, swimming and horror movies. - As Seen On
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