Glass Containers

GLASS CONTAINERS ARE MADE FROM sand, limestone, soda ash, crushed bottles called cullet, and various additives, including those used to color bottles brown, green or blue.

About half of the bottles produced in the United States are clear, or flint, containers, followed closely by brown. Most of the remainder are green, and a small amount are blue and other colors.

In 2003, approximately 35 billion glass containers were made in the United States. Eighty one percent were narrow-neck bottles, which are used primarily for beverages. The rest were wide-mouth bottles for food products. More than half a million tons of bottles, mostly green containers used for beer and wine, were imported.

Glass bottle use in the United States increased by 4.7 million tons between 1960 and 2001. However, the glass container market share of MSW declined in the same time by 31 percent as lighter-weight aluminum and plastic containers replaced glass bottles.

Other glass products such as window glass, fiberglass, and glassware use different manufacturing processes and additives than container glass and are not included in this profile.

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

Glass Containers Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 10.9 million tons or 4.8% by weight *

  • 76.5 pounds per person per year.*

  • 150 bottles per person per year.

  • Average glass bottle weighs 8 ounces


  • 2.4 million tons or 22%*

  • 10 states require deposits on glass beverage containers.

Recycled Content:

  • 26% (U.S. produced bottles).

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

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.5 million tons or 5.3% 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 to 2,000 lbs./cu. yd.

Source Reduction:

  • Glass bottles reduced in weight by more than 50% between 1970 and 2000.

Substituting plastic or aluminum containers for glass resulted in 5 million fewer tons of glass in the waste stream in 2000.

Recycling Markets:

  • 80% of recovered glass is made into new glass bottles.

  • Fiberglass is the second largest market.

  • Other markets including 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 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, D.C.,

Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va.,

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Washington, D.C.,

“Municipal Solid Waste In the United States: 2001 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, 2004

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2004,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, D.C.,

*2001 EPA estimates.