Glass Containers

Glass containers are made from sand, limestone, soda ash, cullet (crushed bottles), and various additives, including those used to color brown, green or blue bottles. About half of the bottles produced in the United States are clear (also known as flint) bottles, followed closely by brown bottles. Most of the remainder are green with a small amount of blue or other colors.

In 2006, approximately 35 billion glass containers were made in the United States. Close to 80 percent were beverage containers and nearly 60 percent were beer bottles. The remaining 20 percent were mostly food containers. Another five billion bottles are imported. Most of these are green-hued wine and beer bottles.

Glass container use in the United States increased by 4.7 million tons between 1960 and 2005. However, the glass container market share of MSW declined in the same time period by 37 percent as lightweight aluminum and plastic containers replaced heavier glass bottles.

Other glass products — such as window glass, fiberglass and glassware — use different manufacturing processes and different additives than container glass. This profile does not cover non-container glass.

Chaz Miller is state programs director for the National Solid Wastes Management Association, Washington, D.C. E-mail the author at: [email protected].

Glass Container Municipal Solid Waste Facts:


  • 10.2 million tons or 4.4% by weight.*
  • 68.9 pounds per person per year.*
  • 134.2 bottles per person per year.
  • Average glass bottle weighs 8 oz.


  • 2.76 million tons, a 25.3% recycling rate.*

  • Eleven states require deposits on glass beverage containers.

Recycled Content:

  • 26% of bottles produced in the United States contain recycled content.

  • A glass bottle can have up to 70% recycled content.


  • Glass does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.2 million tons or 4.9% of discarded MSW by weight.*

  • Glass is inert in landfills.

  • Glass is non-combustible and generally forms a slag in incinerators.

Landfill Volume:

  • 5.5 million cubic yards or 1.3% of landfilled MSW in 1997.


  • Landfilled glass bottles weigh 2,800 pounds per cubic yard (lbs./cu. yd.).

  • Loose glass bottles weigh 600 lbs./cu. yd.

  • Crushed bottles weigh 1,000-2,000 lbs./cu. yd.

Source Reduction:

  • Glass bottles now weigh 50% less than they did in 1970.

  • Substituting plastic or aluminum containers for glass resulted in five million fewer tons of glass in the waste stream in 2000.

Recycling Markets:

  • The majority of recovered glass is made into new glass bottles.

  • Fiberglass is second largest market.

  • Other markets include abrasives, “glasphalt” for roads, glass beads for reflective paint, and filler in storm and French drains.

  • A small amount is exported for recycling.

End-Market Specifications:

  • ISRI Guidelines for Glass Cullet: GC-2007 cover color-specific specifications for container glass cullet.

  • Should be free of excess moisture.

  • Prohibited materials include non-container glass, metals, rocks and ceramic closures.


Current Industrial Reports, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington

Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va.,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition,

“Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures,” Office of Solid Waste, Washington,

Scrap Specifications Circular 2007, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*2005 EPA estimates.