All through last year, we were bombarded with messages about the oceans filling with plastics! – and quite rightly so! They are by far one of the worse problems that face us and the planet’s wildlife in the coming decades, not to mention other materials … which I’ll explore more in later articles.
So in this month’s article, I’m going to talk about – and highlight – another material we all take for granted, and one that we still see floating around our seas … but it just doesn’t seem to get the same “airtime” as plastic! And that is glass!
But before I dive headlong into this, I’d like to give you a quick sum up answer to get you thinking, then I’ll dive into more detail…
How long does it take for glass to decompose? Because glass is made mostly from molten sand – or silica and other products, we think of it as a natural product. But glass is man made and can take thousands of years to decompose. In an ocean environment, glass breaks down slowly but still takes thousands of years to decompose completely.
Glass objects have been found buried … and in perfect condition from centuries ago, as far back as 13th Century BC in Egypt. Granted they were preserved, but that just echoes my point, to last hundreds of years without changing gives you some perspective on how long glass can take to decompose.
Why Am I Talking About Glass in My Monthly Statement?
I’m turning my attention towards our environment and adding my voice to help sway change in our environment and our climate as a whole. I’ll be targeting many climate change aspects – some of which are not spoken of enough. One of those subjects is glass.
I think we underestimate how much glass there is in our environment, and we have limited information on what damage this is causing our wildlife – alongside other materials.
And it’s not just the occasional buried Egyptian bottle or a 1960s Coca Cola Bottle!
For example, even in more modern times as recent as 19th-century Britain, glass making factories used to dump their broken glass a few miles out to sea. Millions of tons of glass are still there and particles are regularly washed up on the shore – known as Sea Glass.
To give you an idea, here’s an image of some sea glass, which serves to demonstrate what even hundreds of years of the rough north sea could only achieve.
How Long Does It Take for a Glass Bottle to Degrade in a Landfill?
Most glass finds it’s way to landfill sites, once in these sites, it is again preserved and protected from any kind of damage, if it does get crushed, then the particles will maintain their chemical composition and will take potentially even more thousands of years to decompose.
But we have little way of knowing how much glass is at the bottom of the ocean. Because glass is less likely to be carried around by ocean currents than plastic is. So we have no way of knowing what damage this may be causing. There are insufficient studies in this area.
How Does Glass Decay?
Even once it has broken in shards, glass does not really break down any further. The decomposition rate is near zero.
After potentially a few hundred years, moisture may seep into the surface area of the glass, this outer layer then takes on a crystal effect known as devitrification. These particles may break off and will then undergo a few hundred more years of breaking down further.
Modern made glass is an extremely robust and refined product. This means that devitrification is less likely to occur as there will likely be fewer anomaly particles in the glass to form the nucleus for such events. We’ve essentially gotten really good at making glass last for hundreds of lifetimes of use!
How to Re-Use Glass
Re-using glass bottles keeps them in use, re-purposes them for other uses – which in turn prevents the need to buy more materials, it also stops them from finding their way into the ground and the sea. Here are some of the methods I know of to do your bit…
Modern Glass Disposal
Of course, we do recognise that throwing glass away cannot continue, we’ve made much more effort in recycling our products these days. And in fact, glass is one of the few products which is actually profitable to recycle, even though it still takes energy and products to crush it, melt it down again and reform it into new wares – it’s still the better option.
Plus, according to gpi.org, “Glass bottles and jars are 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality.”
The container and fiberglass industries alone purchase 3.35 million tons of recycled glass annually. This glass used to be sent to landfills. This is an immense step forward and removes millions of tons from the old garbage disposal methods.
So what am I going to add to the fight? Well here are a few methods you can use to recycle your glass and to help our environment.
According to a study undertaken by the U.S environment protection agency, In 2017, glass product recycling was 11.4 million tons in the United States, which was 4.2 percent of all municipal solid waste. 4.2% is a large amount to reduce from landfills. So if nothing else, recycling your unwanted glass is definitely the way forward if you have no other use for it.
This probably goes without saying, but don’t ignore glass if you see it. Pick it up from the gutter, sweep up any broken glass if and where possible. Pick it up from the side of the lake or beach if you see it tumbling around. And reuse it where you can … which brings us to the uses for glass…
Glass can make beautiful receptacles in the home. Use them as a vase, fill them with unwanted glass marbles to make a decorative ornament, use them for storing liquids where possible instead of buying more glassware. Wide mouth bottles are great for rooting plants.
Other uses include adding fairy lights in a bottle for lighting decoration. Or as a candle holder? A wide-mouth bottle can make a great money jar. Or try bottle trees, candy jars, and bird feeders. I urge you to be creative in using glass to its full potential!
We all know that donations make a huge difference. With donations, we can understand the causes and effects through studies and with science. The Rutakirwa Foundation was set up with this exact approach in mind.
To lend your voice to the cause too and give only what you can afford, you can donate directly via our foundation website. This is where we put funds to good use for environmental, social, cultural and climate-related causes.
The Future of Glass Recycling
Glass is one of those products that have a vast amount of uses and is of course, very difficult to replace. The best we can hope for at this time is that recycling rates increase further, along with our awareness.
We have to remember that we’ll be finding this glass for thousands of years into the future.
When it comes to glass, any actions we take now – even the small ones – have consequences that stretch thousands of years into the future.
This by no means represents me as giving a sermon, I’m as much a part of this as any of us. But I’m using my platform to lend my voice to the throng. So here’s that donation link again for those who can aid the cause!
Consider this my “message in a bottle”.
Till next month,
I remain truly yours,
Serving since 28th December 2008.