Even though glass is a very popular construction material, most commercial glass is already installed in existing structures. Because buildings are intended to last for a long time, the original glass often stays in place until someone undertakes the cost of remodeling or rehabilitation, or the building gets demolished.
Renovations, remodeling and rehabilitation all present an excellent opportunity to update commercial glass. The primary motivator for such an update is usually energy efficiency. In rehab situations, it may be necessary to replace windows that have been broken, especially if a building has been empty for quite some time.
Aside from these special situations, updating the windows in a building usually isn’t a high priority, largely because of the expense involved. When windows are removed or replaced, they’re usually carted off to the landfill, as part of the larger collection of construction debris.
When buildings are demolished, there is little incentive to remove the windows prior to demolition. There’s also very little financial incentive to do so. The market for recyclable glass is very small, so it costs less and takes less effort to ship old glass to the landfill.
Modern commercial windows rarely contain ordinary glass. Laminated glass, tinted glass and safety glass dominate the commercial construction landscape. Other specialized glasses – such as low-e glass – also have coatings and other additives that make recycling difficult, if not impossible.
While these types of glasses can’t be recycled, they may find additional use in fiberglass products or as components of concrete, asphalt or as landfill cover.
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Photo Credit: Meriwether Lewis Elementary, via Flickr.com