Can glass and plastic be recycled together? (7 applications of recycling) 

This article will assess whether glass and plastic can be recycled together or not. Other covered topics would be: 

  • What is glass?
  • What is the environmental impact of glass?
  • What is plastic?
  • What is the environmental impact of plastic?
  • What is recycling?
  • What are the benefits of recycling?
  • Can glass and plastic be recycled together?
  • FAQs

Can glass and plastic be recycled together?

It is not advised to mix glass and plastic together for recycling. This is primarily because glass may break into very small pieces and its segregation from plastic may become problematic. 

It is better to segregate glass and plastic items so that better efficiencies of recycling are achieved. In the case of glass, only glass bottles and jars are to be recycled. 

Glass may be mixed with plastic recyclables too but it is better to not to. As per plastic, it is important to know what items are recyclable (bottles, appliances, packaging, culinary items) and which are not (rings, styrofoam, CDs, DVDs, and PVC pipes). 

What is glass?

This section will cover the details regarding glass, how it is made, what it is made of, and importantly, what is the environmental impact of glass. 

Our everyday lives are greatly exposed to glass. Everywhere you see, you will definitely encounter something made of glass. 

But what is glass in the first place? How does it end up in almost every house or building out there on the face of the earth and how it is made?

Glass can be explained as a transparent or translucent solid which may exhibit the properties of being hard, brittle, and impervious to natural elements. 

Glass is made from silicon dioxide which is also known as silica. Other ingredients present in glass may be soda ash or limestone. 

The following are some of the common properties found in glass: 

  • Hardness & Brittleness
  • Resistance
  • Chemical inertness
  • Transparency 
  • Colour and shape varieties 
  • Insulation 
  • Weather resistance 

What is the environmental impact of glass?

Since glass is made from natural elements like silica, soda ash, and limestone, it is plausible to assume that glass has no environmental impact on the environment. 

However, this statement is far from the truth. The reason is that every consumer product does have some impact on the environment, be it large or small. 

That is because there is the input required for the making of any particular consumer product that input will have to have repercussions. 

As it is philosophically stated, “Whatever you do, echoes in eternity.” The same is the case for consumer products because there is an expenditure of energy, labour, resources, and even chemicals. This expense is bound to rebel against nature’s ways. 

If we talk about the environmental impact of glass, the story is no different. Glass also has a lot of environmental impact. This is primarily because a lot of heat is required for the melting process of glass making. 

This heat is sourced from non-renewable resources. Non-renewable resources are obtained from the burning of fossil fuels which lead to the emissions of greenhouse gases. 

You may wonder what greenhouse gases are. Greenhouse gases are those gases that are responsible for rising the temperature of the earth. This leads to global warming and other reciprocated effects. 

Among the reciprocated effects, there is ozone depletion, changes in weather patterns, melting of glaciers, rising sea levels, and deforestation. 

It is plausible to justify that the impacts and effects of GHGs such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, methane, ethylene et cetera reciprocate to every corner and every aspect of our globe. 

The emissions of gases such as sulphur dioxide during the glass-making process also lead to environmental problems such as acidification and the formation of smog. 

There can be water pollution caused by glass because of the release of harmful gases like SOx and NOx. 

To exemplify the impact of glass on the environment, consider the following statement: 

The impact of plastic bottles is widely accepted and reprimanded by the community at large but it is estimated that the impact of glass bottles on the environment is four times greater than that of plastic bottles. 

The main reason is the hefty production process which is done at the expense of GHGs and harmful chemicals while also employing non-renewable resources, which are already limitedly available. 

What is plastic?

Plastics are polymers that are mostly created in the labs. Polymers can be explained as repeating units (monomers) that are linked together by chemical bonds. 

The word polymer is derived from the Greek language which means many parts. 

Polymers can be naturally occurring as well as synthetic. Examples of natural polymers may be DNA, RNA, Proteins et cetera. 

These polymers occur naturally and there are no great impacts these natural polymers have on the environment. 

However, there are also synthetic polymers which are made in the lab. Since these polymers are made in the lab, there are various chemicals and synthetic materials involved in the making of synthetic polymers. 

These polymers are known to have detrimental impacts on the environment and the people. Most of the plastics are synthetic polymers that are synthesised in the lab and have negative impacts on the environment and life. 

Examples of plastics can be PET, HDPE, LDPE et cetera. All these plastics deliver exceptional utility value but this value comes at the cost of our environment, sadly. 

As per studies, there are 7 classes of plastics. These classes are made owing to their applications and mode of use. These classes are: 

  • HDPE
  • LDPE
  • PET
  • PVC
  • PP
  • Polystyrene 
  • Contemporary plastics 

Most plastics are made from materials obtained from non-renewable materials derived from fossil fuels. 

However, there is an exception to this as well. In the last category of plastics, there are also bio-plastics found. 

These plastics are made from natural materials (mostly plant-based). Examples of such materials can be sugarcane, sugar beet or cornstarch. 

It is reckoned that since biological materials are used to make bioplastics, there will be fewer environmental impacts of bioplastics as compared to other forms of plastics. 

What is the environmental impact of plastics?

There is a lot of known environmental impact of plastics. This is because most plastics are made from petroleum-based products. 

These plastics are non-biodegradable and will persist for hundreds of years. As per research, plastics may persist for as long as a thousand years. 

You may wonder if bioplastics will be biodegradable. The assumption is partly correct. Bioplastics are indeed biodegradable because they are made from natural, plant-based materials. 

However, bioplastics may still take more than 3 years to fully degrade which is comparatively a long time, given the general context of biodegradable materials. 

Further, it is also emphasised that bioplastics may cause toxicity and environmental degradation despite being biodegradable. 

Plastics may convert into microplastics. Microplastics are found in every corner of the world and cause all sorts of problems and issues. 

Below are some of the major issues caused by plastics on the environment and health: 

  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • GHG emissions
  • Rise in temperature
  • A rise in sea levels
  • Melting glaciers
  • More floods
  • Frequent droughts
  • Unprecedented weather patterns
  • Insects attacks
  • Land degradation
  • Food shortage
  • Food security concerns
  • Species endangerment 
  • Infiltration into the food chains
  • Loss of aquatic life
  • Accumulation of plastics
  • Disruptions of ecosystems

The health complications raised by plastics also include: 

  • Abnormality
  • Reproductive complications
  • Hormonal issues
  • Damage to foetus
  • Necrosis
  • Skin damage
  • Eye allergies
  • Organ defects
  • Cancer
  • Mutation
  • Psychological complication
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Neuro-toxicity
  • Neurological complications 

What is recycling?

In simple words, recycling can be explained as a process in which old materials are altered in a way so that they may be used again as new materials. 

It is a very important process to ensure that there is less waste generation and accumulation. 

The applications and processes of recycling are also important because the current waste generation has already crossed the given threshold. 

The current waste generation is expected to be around 2 billion tons which may also rise up to more than 3 billion tons in just a few decades. 

If those figures are translated at an individual level, then it can be said that an average person is responsible for the generation of more than 5 kgs of waste per day.

These staggering figures reveal why there is an increased need for us to recycle because it is one of the best ways to ensure that waste generation is not passing the supposed threshold. 

You may also wonder whether all materials are recyclable. Whether all materials are recyclable or not? The answer is no. Not all materials are recyclable, however, most consumer products can be recycled. 

Recycling is also regarded as a safe heaven for materials that are not biodegradable. A good example can be nylon. Nylon is a non-biodegradable material which has the capacity to remain in the environment for a very long time. 

While it persists, it may damage life and the environment in the worst possible ways. Therefore, authorities such as Econyl have started endeavours in which they recycle nylon. 

In this way, there is less waste generation while also ensuring that the negative effects of nylon do not cloud the environment and life. 

Some of the common materials which can be recycled include:

  • Paper
  • Plastic 
  • Glass
  • Metals
  • Batteries 
  • Electronics

As a general rule of thumb, most of the materials can be recycled including both biodegradable and non-biodegradable. However, since the impacts of non-biodegradable products are greater than biodegradable products, the recycling of non-biodegradable products is cherished more. 

What are the benefits of recycling? (7 benefits of recycling) 

The following are the benefits of recycling: 

  • Energy conservation
  • Conservation of natural resources
  • Better waste management 
  • Employment prospects
  • Reduction of waste
  • Reduction of pollution 

Can glass and plastic be recycled together?

It is not advised to mix glass and plastic together for recycling. This is primarily because glass may break into very small pieces and its segregation from plastic may become problematic. 

It is better to segregate glass and plastic items so that better efficiencies of recycling are achieved. In the case of glass, only glass bottles and jars are to be recycled. 

Glass may be mixed with plastic recyclables too but it is better not to. As per plastic, it is important to know what items are recyclable (bottles, appliances, packaging, culinary items) and which are not (rings, styrofoam, CDs, DVDs, and PVC pipes). 

It is also advised to properly wash and clean the materials to be recycled. This will also help in optimising the recycling process. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Can glass and plastic be recycled together?

Can you compost plastic and glass? 

Only type 7 plastic (contemporary plastics) can be composted. Glass can not be composted. 

Reference

  • Bulkeley, H., & Askins, K. (2009). Waste interfaces: biodegradable waste, municipal policy and everyday practice. Geographical Journal, 175(4), 251-260.
  • Hopewell, J., Dvorak, R., & Kosior, E. (2009). Plastics recycling: challenges and opportunities. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1526), 2115-2126.

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