Hey Mr. Green,
Do glass bottles actually get recycled? My understanding is that if brown and green glass gets mixed, it has no value except as fill for roads. If glass bottles do get recycled, what do they get made into?
-William in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania
Thanks for the opportunity to disprove another pesky urban legend from contrarians who consider it their mission to debunk environmentalists. Actually, the biggest problem with recycled glass is that there's not enough of it. We recycle only 25 percent of the glass in the U.S. solid-waste stream, a national disgrace, considering the landfill space and energy we'd save with more recycling.
About 70 percent of recycled glass goes into new containers or useful products like fiberglass insulation. Glass separated by color is preferable to mixed, since neither green nor brown can be used to make clear glass. To save space, bottles are crushed into cullet, which is melted back into "new" glass. If the cullet is too mixed or contaminated, some is, alas, dumped, but it also winds up in all sorts of items: beads, tiles, countertops, frictionators (a neat word for match tips), highway reflectors, and, yes, road aggregate.
Only 11 states have bottle-deposit laws, thanks to opposition from corporations and trade associations. States with the economic incentive of deposits average a 63 percent recycling rate, compared with a puny 12 percent in states without, says the Container Recycling Institute.
CRI's Web site (container-recycling.org) displays a counter tallying how many cans and bottles have been littered, incinerated, or sent to landfills since January 1, and it's shocking to see the numbers fly by. In mid-July, we were already at 69 billion; 182,000 more got tossed while I typed these last two sentences!