Serving a great purpose with little thought, glass is a key ingredient in many of our everyday products. Crockery, light bulbs, mirrors, stoves, windshields, windows – the list is long for something that hasn’t been given a second thought. Friend or foe, we must consider the implications of glass manufacturing on the environment.

The ‘What is’ of glass

Glass is a combination of three types of substances that occur naturally in North America;

  • silica, the most popular being white sand
  • alkali, such as baking soda
  • limestone

Sometimes a metal oxide (lead) is added to the mix. Depending on the alkali used and whether or not lead is added, the clarity or color tone of the glass changes. The cost of production and the quality of the glass are determined by the choice of alkali and percentage used, combined with the choice and percentage of silica used.

The ‘how’ of glass production

A silica, an alkali and limestone are first crushed into a powder form, sifting out the coarse particles. They are then mixed together and placed in an oven at an extremely high temperature for 24 hours. This produces molten glass which is then cooled several hundred degrees, resulting in a thick liquid. The resulting material is called frit and is then blown, pressed, stretched, molded or rolled into glassware. If the glass is to be molded, the molds are also heated to a high temperature so that the liquid poured into them does not wrinkle. The cooling process consists of washing with water.

Environmental impact of glass production

The new glass manufacturing process is not at all environmentally friendly. The initial crushing and grinding step sends particles of metals, chemicals, acids, and dust into the air. These are easily inhaled and cause irritation to the nose and throat, which could damage the lungs. Metal particles are dangerous for the environment as they can get into the surrounding soil and water.

The need for extremely high temperature furnaces to melt the mixture of substances makes the melting stage of the glass manufacturing process very energy intensive. It is estimated that 15.2 million BTUs of energy are needed to produce one ton of glass. During any of the forming processes, the glass may need to be reheated to keep it in a liquid form. This means that the heat in the oven must be maintained until the process is complete.

Discharges from the glass manufacturing process can reach the aquatic environment during the cooling and cleaning processes where the most significant amounts of water are used. The discharges may contain some glass fragments, some solubles used in production such as sodium sulfate, lubricating oil used in the cutting process, dissolved salts and chemical products for water treatment.

Glass manufacturing processes also emit a significant amount of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide. In addition, the processes spit out air-polluting compounds such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter.

benefits of glass

Glass is non-porous, which makes it impervious to other substances. For this reason, glass is a very hygienic surface as bacteria and germs that come into contact with it are not absorbed by its structure. Glass surfaces require strong cleaning with a disinfectant and hot water without affecting their quality. For this reason, glass containers can be easily reused many times.

The impermeability of its structure eliminates any interaction with the stored contents. This, coupled with the fact that the glass is made from non-toxic raw materials, rules out the concern of chemicals leaching into the substances contained. In the case of food storage, this also ensures the freshness and unrivaled taste of the stored substance. Glass containers also do not absorb odors from the food that is in or around them.

Unlike other materials, the glass used in the microwave does not leach any toxins into the food or liquids contained. It also does not stain, corrode or deteriorate no matter how many times it is reused.

Glass dishes and containers are very versatile as they can go from the freezer to the microwave or oven. Glass looks very attractive on the table or as decorative pieces such as candy dishes, storage jars, vases, and mirrors.

And the glass is 100% recyclable.

Turning the enemy into a friend

Many manufacturers have implemented practices to reduce the negative environmental impact of glass manufacturing. Consideration has been given to the use of more efficient furnaces to reduce energy use, the production of thinner glass to employ lower temperatures and reduce transportation costs, the use of air and water purification systems, and the use of recycled glass. to make a new one.

Here are some ways to reduce environmental effects and still enjoy the benefits of glass products.

  • Reuse glass containers for food and storage. Due to its natural properties there is no chemical reaction with the glass container and its contents. Glassware in the home can be used safely over and over again with no loss in glass quality.
  • Recycle. Glass is 100% recyclable and can be reused to make new glass. Unlike other types of materials, the reuse of glass does not in any way degrade the integrity of the material. Glass can be melted down and reused over and over again. A glass bottle that ends its useful life in a landfill can take a million years to break down. But a recycled glass bottle has a turnaround time of about 30 days from the recycling bin to becoming a new bottle on a store shelf. Every ton of glass that is recycled saves more than a ton of raw materials needed to create new glass. Because shard glass (reusable glass pieces) is melted at a much lower temperature, manufacturing glass products from shard glass consumes 40 percent less energy than making new glass from scratch. from raw materials.
  • Reduce the number of new glass products you buy. Because it has found its way into so many commercial uses, it is now easy to find products made from recycled glass. Look for recycled glass dinnerware, recycled glass jewelry, decorative tile, countertops, and landscaping materials that use recycled glass.

Glass is a versatile and beautiful material to use in many facets of our lives. Let’s do our part to turn glass production from an enemy to a friend.

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