What happens to recycled glass?

Glass is one of those products that is 100% recyclable. Recycle your old glass properly and you’re contributing to a zero-waste economy.

Latest figures show that 1.65 million tonnes of glass is collected for recycling in Britain every year.

However, the figures for the UK aren’t that great. The government thinks that pubs and restaurants throw away 200,000 tonnes of glass in their general waste, which goes straight to landfill. That’s 200,000 tonnes of wasted resources.

In total, we recycle over 62% of all glass used. This is slightly below the European average, where countries like Belgium recycle virtually all of their used glass, followed by Netherlands and Sweden, who both recycle over 90%.

So, what happens to recycled glass? We visited a wine bottle factory (in France!) to find out.

Whether it’s glass from your kerbside collection, or from bottle banks, or from shops, restaurants and bars, it’s usually sorted into colours. Unfortunately, people have a habit of putting the wrong colours into the wrong holes on bottle banks, so it still has to be sorted when it reaches the waste transfer facility.

Then it’s loaded onto a truck and taken straight to the factory. Here, Monsieur Le Boeuf told us the process takes minutes rather than hours.

The green glass they take is dumped into a large hopper and straight through a kiln where it melts into a liquid. Then it’s passed through a former into the familiar bottle shape, but still glowing white with the heat. The rest of the process is allowing the glass to air cool, so that eventually the production line is a line of green bottles. Each passes in front of a sensor, and any rejects are nudged off the line, and sent straight back up on a conveyor belt to be melted down again.

Tens of thousands of bottles are made each day, and it’s a hot, noisy process. But by relying on recycled material, very few raw materials of glass (sand, ash and limestone) are needed apart from some coloring.

Monsieur Le Boeuf told us that using cullet – recycled glass – saves energy and raw materials, making the process far cheaper than manufacturing from new.

Glass doesn’t have to be recycled into new bottles or jars though. Some is used ion aggregates (such as for road surfaces), and also glass fibre.

Recycled properly, glass is truly an example of the circular economy.