In our journey towards a more sustainable lifestyle we have been familiarized with the zero waste movement.
This is a very inspirational lifestyle, and reading how people have limited their waste production to such a minimum is very motivating for us to step up our game.
A zero waste lifestyle however, is not exactly limited to package free items. We often see that people fully exclude plastics, whilst still buying items in glass or metal packaging. This made us interested in finding out more about other packaging materials.
If you’re interested in reading up about plastics, we recently wrote a blog post explaining why we try to limit our plastic consumption, and why you should do the same!
But today, we’re diving into the subject of glass!
How is glass made?
Let’s start by discussing the way that glass is made. The components of glass packaging are all natural and raw materials. Silica sand, soda ash, limestone, and recycled glass are the main components.
The production process involves extreme heat at long durations to allow all raw materials to melt and from one viscous fluid that can be shaped into bottles and jars.
Where glass is made out of a mixture of molten natural raw materials, plastic is chemically formed from oil and gas.
If you’re interested to see the production process of glass, you can watch this ‘How it’s made’ video!
There are two main reasons why glass is so popular as a packaging material amongst people that live a zero-waste lifestyle.
The first reason being that glass bottles and jars are reusable. In contrast to most plastic packaging, glass can be cleaned and reused time and time again.
Plastic tubes that used to contain toothpaste or moisturizer can’t be reused by the consumer, so they are discarded.
Plastic water bottles could be refilled with tap water for a few times, but the quality of the bottle would decrease quickly and bacteria will grow on the inside as they can’t properly be cleaned.
Glass jars on the other hand can be reused endlessly. Since many glass products have a wide opening, cleaning is often an option too. They can be placed in the dishwasher, or even fully sterilized in an oven!
We reuse our glass jars in several ways, one being making our own natural scented candles!
Now the second reason why glass is preferred over plastic, is the fact that it is 100% recyclable. Glass can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality, purity, or strength.
All leftover glass that is discarded properly can be fully recycled and used to create new glass packaging. This leftover glass is called cullet, and as said previously, it can substitute up to 95% of raw materials in glass packaging production.
Additionally, less energy is needed to create new glass from recycled glass instead of raw materials. With every 10% of raw materials substituted with cullet, the energy costs drop with about 2-3%.
Every 6 tons of cullet used in the manufacturing process of new glass, reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 1 ton!
So not only does recycling decrease the use of raw materials, it also decreases fuel usage and carbon emissions!
Plastic does not have the ability to be fully recycled. It loses its quality very quickly and can only be recycled once or a few times, depending on the type.
Too good to be true?
It seems that glass is quite a good packaging material. .
As with everything, there’s a but. Here are a few things that we do have to keep in mind!
Firstly, although glass is made out of natural raw materials and recycled glass cullet, this does not mean that the production process itself is fully harmless to the environment.
We have to remember that, although part of the ingredients are recycled, not every glass jar is made purely from recycled glass. No raw material is so abundant that it can never be depleted.
Sand mining is actually very harmful to the environment and can cause damage to ecosystems on many levels. An example would be that sand mining causes for large sand clouds in water, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation. Eventually, this results in a limited oxygen production by these plants, causing for marine life to suffer.
Reusability is not always an option
We also have to keep in mind that whilst glass packaging is often reusable, we won’t actually reuse every item. Although the glass bottles and jars are convenient to keep and use in our household, eventually our cabinets will overflow! We only need so many jars for jam, pots for toothpaste, and bottles for homemade oat milk!
And what we also have to realize, is that glass packaging is often sealed with a plastic lid. Although we can reuse these caps whilst reusing the glass bottle or jar, the overflowing jars that we do dispose of will still create plastic waste.
So although glass is very sustainable, it also produces waste that ends up in landfills eventually.
Recycling isn’t always perfect
Glass isn’t always recycled the way it should be. Not everyone disposes their glass waste in the correct place. Glass jars that end up in landfills won’t be recovered and hence cannot be recycled and turned in to new glass.
Glass waste is contaminated with several things such as labels, plastic caps, and aluminum lids. It takes extra time and energy to clear it of all contaminants.
Not all glass that gets recollected is turned into new glass containers. Luckily, cullet that does not meet the high standards of food packaging is used in different ways. This sums up to be around 20% of all recollected glass. It is for example recycled in tiles, decorative items, and has many other uses.
There is one more major benefit of glass over plastic.
Have you ever eaten something from a plastic container, wondering why it tasted slightly different than you thought it would? Well, that’s because plastic is permeable and can take up tiny particles of food.
Glass is fully impermeable and nonporous. This means, that glass does not interact with any products it comes in contact with.
Hence, products packaged or stored in glass will not be affected in flavor.
Glass is actually the only packaging material widely used in the food industry that is recognized by the highest standard by the US Food and Drug Administration.
Overall, glass is a much better packaging material than plastic. It’s natural, reusable, and most importantly: fully recyclable.
In a short while we will be looking at yet another packaging material, so stay tuned for that one!
How do you reuse your glass jars and bottles? Tell us in the comments below!