New construction makes extensive use of glass. For a variety of reasons, glass has become an attractive material for builders to use. But what happens to architectural glass when it is no longer used? In most cases, the glass ends up in the landfill. In an effort to change that, a few movements are underway to discuss commercial glass recycling.
Glass is infinitely recyclable. It can be remade into glass an unlimited number of times, often at lower cost. The glass recycling process takes less energy that the glass making process does, so the idea of commercial glass recycling is attractive.
Commercial glass recycling has significant benefits
The vast majority of commercial glass is currently installed. While window frames deteriorate, the glass inside of them doesn’t. Although this glass could be recycled, most building construction and destruction companies don’t know what to do with window glass. The glass that doesn’t end up in the landfill usually gets repurposed in paving aggregate, used in road construction and repair. While this re-use is better than consignment to the landfill, over the long run, it increases the cost of commercial glass because virtually all commercial glass is made from new materials.
Why isn’t commercial glass recycled more frequently? First, removing glass from a building that’s being torn down or remodeled is labor-intensive. Second, unlike scrap metal and other architectural materials that can be recovered at a profit, no one’s paying for used glass. Coupled together, removing commercial glass becomes a labor-intensive activity that while good for the environment, has no immediate payback for the company performing the work.
Some newer commercial glasses – especially low-emissivity glasses, laminated glasses and wired glasses – can’t simply be recycled as is. These glasses have been specially treated or formulated in ways that regular container glass and standard float glass haven’t been, and they can’t simply be combined together in the remanufacturing process.
One of the biggest obstacles to recycling glass from building sites is the fact that most contractors don’t know what to do with the glass, how to identify and sort it, and how to ensure that the glass gets into the hands of reprocessors.
A British firm is now doing research on the best ways to process and remanufacture commercial glass. The research is funded by a European project aimed at returning construction debris to raw materials economically. The ultimate goal of the project is to reduce carbon emissions, energy consumption and landfill usage.
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Photo Credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy, via Flickr.com