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Recycling Q & A: Broken Glassware

Written by Annie Bell Muzaurieta .
We know where to put that empty beer bottle, but can you recycle a broken drinking glass?
UPDATED: 06/03/11 | Originally Published: 02/24/10

You've dropped (another) champagne glass and it broke into pieces. Can you stick those shards into the recycling bin, or does that flute go straight into the garbage?

If you guessed garbage, you're probably right (and you thought this would be easy!). According to Conni Kunzler of the Glass Packaging Institute [GPI], curbside recycling programs often don't accept glassware along with recyclables, even if you can recycle, say, spaghetti jars. Rick Bayer of GPI says this is because glassware products are composed of various ingredients that are all in different proportions and with distinct expansion rates, which interferes with the actual recycling process.

According to the EPA, 90 percent of recycled glass is used to make new containers.

Cookware, Bayer explains, is an example of how some glassware is incompatible with container glass. Some cookware might look like the same glass you find in a pasta sauce jar or a beer bottle, but the glass composition of many types of cookware is in fact very different, resulting in glass that melts at a higher temperature and that has a different rate of expansion. When introduced into a container glass furnace, this cookware glass will not melt and will compromise the quality of the finished products — and given that the materials have already gone from recycling bin to recycling facility, no one wants to ruin them right before they become new containers.

Glass itself is very recyclable, and there is a strong market for the finished product of recycled glass. According to the EPA, 90 percent of recycled glass is used to make new containers. In addition, the material is used in kitchen tiles, counter tops, and wall insulation.

The bottom line: First, know exactly what glass is accepted in your area (check to find out). If a type of glass can be recycled whole, go ahead and recycle it if it breaks — just don't cut yourself.

What do you do with old glassware? Share your tips in the comments below!

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