When you Google “zero waste,” you’ll find scores of photos of glass jars everywhere. Glass is quite common in the zero waste movement, from trash cans to jars that line our pantries. What is the appeal of glass, and why do we have such a strong attraction to it? Is it really more environmentally beneficial than plastic? We’ve teamed up with Simply Plastics to compare the environmental effect of glass and plastic.
Plastic has a terrible reputation among environmentalists – that is in large part due to the fact that only 9% of it is recycled. However, in the case of plastic, there’s still so much more to consider in terms of what goes into creation and recycling, not to mention its fate.
To make new glass, you’ll need sand. While we have a lot of desert, beach, and underwater sand available, it is being utilised at a rate that exceeds the planet’s ability to replenish it. When it comes to filling our lakes and ponds, we use sand more than oil, and only a certain type of sand can accomplish the task (no, desert sand won’t work).
Sand is most commonly extracted from riverbeds and seabeds. Taking sand out of its natural setting also wreaks havoc on the ecosystem, since microorganisms live on it and feed the base of the food chain. Removing sand from the seabed exposes shore communities to flooding and erosion. You can see where this would be an issue since we require sand in order to create new glass.
Glass, on the other hand, is heavier than plastic and suffers more easily when transported. It emits more CO2 in the transport process than plastic, and it’s cheaper to ship. Another consideration is that most glass isn’t really recycled. In reality, only 33% of waste glass is recycled in the United States. When you consider how much tonnage 10 million metric tons of glass are disposed of each year in the United States, it’s not a great recycling rate.
Glass recycling is low for many reasons, including the fact that it’s typically used as a low-cost landfill cover. Consumers who engage in “wish-cycling,” tossing non-recyclables into the bin and polluting it. The majority of coloured glass tends not to be recyclable, as it is composed of dissimilar metals. Because the manufacturing process for windows and Pyrex bakeware is designed to endure high temperatures, it’s not recyclable.
Glass, on the other hand, takes a million years to decompose in nature and possibly much longer in a landfill. That’s around four major issues with glass that have an impact on the environment altogether.
Both glass and plastic have advantages and disadvantages. The greatest thing we can do is reduce our reliance on single-use items! If you only use it once, try to find a new solution. Of course, there are exceptions, and there’s no way we’ll be able to completely eradicate single-use packaging entirely, but we can make a significant dent in it by being more aware of our purchases.
In general, try to avoid acquiring new plastic and instead choose glass. What about all the millions of plastic bottles and jars we toss every year? Are we really recycling if we don’t buy goods made from recycled materials? And, by using your glass containers and jars, you should absolutely recycle them!