Is Glass Biodegradable? (Let’s know some facts)

In this outline we will discuss the question “Is glass biodegradable?” with some facts on the material composition, its multiple applications, and know more about its biodegradability. We will try to learn more aspects of glass and what can be done for its continual usage as a consumer and industrial product without compromising its benefits to the environment.

Is Glass Biodegradable?

No, glass is not completely biodegradable, and it may take up to a million years in a landfill for it to be completely degradable. But then you might wonder what makes it different from plastics. It is wrong to make a conclusion that glasses are hazardous to our environment because of their non-biodegradability. 

There are many aspects of glass products that make them more environmentally friendlier than plastics or other non-biodegradable materials. Let’s dig into some facts that make glass a favorable material source for our environment. 

The following points will summarize the benefits of glasses and how it can contribute to safeguarding our environment even if its not biodegradable.

  • Sustainability
  • Recyclability
  • Diverse application
  • Non-toxic nature

Glass is sustainable 

Sustainability refers to maintaining our needs without compromising the needs for future generations. Glasses are sustainable from the time it is made till its use ends. This is because glass is fully recyclable and causes less air and water pollution compared to other multipurpose products. 

No matter how much you recycle glass products, its material property is not lost, and glass remains glass.

Glass is fully recyclable

Glass that we use in the kitchen or for food items is completely recyclable without downcycling. It is necessary to dispose of glasses in a separate recycling bin so that it does not break and contaminate other materials. The effective recycling process also depends on the service provided by the community. 

Many places offer compensation for the used glass and the people are encouraged for proper handling and disposal of glass items through proper education and offers. The rate of glass recycling is also highly variable with some countries like Switzerland and Germany having 90% recyclable rate while others have as low as 30%.

Use of glass products help mitigate climate changes

Any product that releases carbon dioxide upon breakdown, negatively contributes to climate change. However, being inert, glass does not release any carbon dioxide into the environment and help reduce the generation of greenhouse gasses.Moreover, modified glasses such as glass fibers and smart glasses have been used for providing energy efficient windows for conversion of sunlight to energy. 

Most interestingly glass microspheres are used to mitigate ice melting where a layer of these microspheres on the ice will reflect most of the heat from sunlight falling on the Arctic ice. Such innovations help in lowering the climate change effects and provide a solution for global warming.

Making of glass does not deplete natural resources 

Glass is made of glass wastes and abundantly available natural raw material such as sand. Their processing is very energy efficient as glass wastes melt at low temperature. Recycling of glass is another effective way by which one can preserve the raw materials and natural resources. 

Glass bottles have a high recycling rate ranging from 50% to 80%. This is a huge range because glass waste materials are collected efficiently and not much waste is generated. Also, glass bottles or other products can be recycled without downcycling thus maintaining its structural integrity, quality, and purity. 

Glass is non-toxic to nature 

Glass is corrosion resistant and an inter material and its non-reactivity to any food makes it an ideal material for packaging. Neither does glass leak any harmful chemicals that can harm the environment, nor does it change the nature of any food products. 

Thus, their use as a storage container is versatile ranging from medicine bottles to household items to packaging of beverages. They preserve the taste and nutrients in the food products and the properties of medicine. 

What are sea glasses and why are they very attractive? 

One of the most interesting and helpful processes in glass weathering is seen through the formation of sea glass. As the name suggests, it is found in the sea or ocean where glass materials are withered by the salinity of sea water and it forms smooth, bright, and shining pebbles like material near the beaches. 

These sea glasses look very attractive, and many have already developed their business through the sale of jewelry and show pieces made from sea glasses. 

Colorful sea glasses on the beach. Photo: iStock

Does the use of glasses have any drawbacks?

Nothing comes with 100% efficiency in safeguarding our environment. Though glass products provide a best alternative to plastics, it always has drawbacks of its own. Let’s list some of the drawbacks of using glass. 

Broken glasses may cause physical hazards. The sharp edges of broken glasses may cause cuts and wounds if not disposed of properly. Even more, glasses contaminated with toxins or blood will cause potential health issues. 

There are several issues with transportation of glasses. Glasses are very heavy and easily breakable, hence, need hefty packing materials during transportation. Even then we could see many losses during lengthy periods of transportation through roads. 

Glass making is an energy consumption process as they require high heat and energy which is obtained from non-renewable resources such as coal and petroleum. However, used and broken glass from the glass wastes melt at low temperature. 

Some of the glass products are not recyclable. This category of glasses possesses a different melting temperature than the approved recyclable glasses. For example, window glasses are processed for its durability and have a very high melting point making it difficult for recycling. 

Another example is the decorative glasses which are contaminated with paints and color and hence need to be treated separately. Similar is the case with safety glasses, car windshields, ceramics, Pyrex or other heat resistant glasses.

Conclusion 

In this report we have discussed the question “is glass biodegradable?” and have included facts and points about glass products, its material composition, biodegradability and emphasis on environmentally friendly nature compared to other non-biodegradable materials. 

For the long run, its recyclability is important, and much awareness needs to be given to the public for its proper disposal. 

Through this article, we are giving readers our viewpoint on glass as an eco-friendly material and how it can be advantageous over other non-biodegradable materials. However, if the readers believe that we have a potential glass problem, then please comment on our page and let us know what you think.

Frequently asked question (FAQs): Is glass biodegradable? 

Is glass easily biodegradable? 

Glass is not easily biodegraded by naturally occurring bacteria and fungi. Even the natural soil condition does not enhance its degradation process. If glass ends up in landfill, it may take hundreds of years for it to break down.

Is glass eco-friendly? 

Yes, glass can be made eco-friendly by its proper recycling and safe use. It uses naturally occurring material such as sand and limestone for the process and when it comes to its recyclability, glass is among the most recyclable materials. Being an inter material, it does not leak any chemicals to harm the environment. 

How long does glass take to biodegrade?

Glasses and their products may take hundreds of years to degrade in landfills. It is in fact most resistant to degradation similar to plastic products. However, its recyclability is very effective and hence with proper disposal and recycling glasses can be a better alternatives than other non-biodegradable materials. 

Broken glasses have been found that are dated back to Egyptian civilization with almost no change in their material property. 

How is glass made? 

Glass is made from widely available material such as sand, soda ash, and limestone which are melted at high temperature. They behave as liquid during this process, however, at ambient temperature they remain solid. 

Is glass recyclable? 

Yes, glass is 100% recyclable, and it can be repeated many times without any loss of material quality and nature. Only thing to note is that glass materials must be kept in separate recycling bins with proper covering so that its sharp edges do not harm others. 

Is glass worse than plastic? 

Glass is far better than plastic both economically and environmentally. However, it has its own downsize in terms of handling and processing. We can summarize its benefit over plastic with the following point. 

  • Glass is non-reactive and does not release any toxins whereas heating plastics can release harmful chemicals such as furans and mercury. 
  • Glass is 100% recyclable without downcycling which means that its nature and property with each recycling is not changed. However, plastic material property and quality are reduced with each recycling and hence recycling of plastic is not efficient. 
  • Glass is made from abundantly available material (but not unlimited!) whereas production of plastic utilizes petroleum-based products which is a non-renewable source of energy.

 

References 

Rajaramakrishna, R. and Kaewkhao, J. 2019. Glass material and their advanced applications. KnE Social Sciences. 3, 18 (Jul. 2019), 796–807. DOI:https://doi.org/10.18502/kss.v3i18.4769

Park, Elizabeth. “Where Does Beach Glass Come From?”. USA Today. (Retrieved) 

National Geographic magazine, “Environment” section: “The Shard Way”, August 2008 

Larsen AW, Merrild H, Christensen TH. Recycling of glass: accounting of greenhouse gases and global warming contributions. Waste Manag Res. 2009 Nov;27(8):754-62. doi: 10.1177/0734242X09342148. 

https://earth911.com/earth-watch/how-can-glass-help-mitigate-climate-change/

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