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, bottles, followed closely by brown bottles. Most of the remainder are green, and a small amount are blue or another color.

In 2004, approximately 35 billion glass containers were made in the United States. Seventy-five percent were beverage containers, more than half of which were beer bottles. The rest were mostly food containers. More than 500,000 tons of green glass containers, mostly used for beer and wine, were imported.

Glass container use in the United States increased by 4.5 million tons between 1960 and 2003. However, the glass container market share of MSW declined in the same time period by 36 percent as lighterweight aluminum and plastic containers replaced glass bottles.

Other glass products such as window glass, fiberglass and glassware use different manufacturing processes and different additives than container glass and are not covered 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]


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

Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va.,

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

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2003,” U.S. EPA, 2005,

“Scrap Specifications Circular 2005,” Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington,

*2003 U.S. EPA estimates

Glass Containers Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Facts:


  • 10.7 million tons or 4.5 percent by weight.*

  • 73.5 pounds per person per year.*

  • 147 bottles per person per year.

  • An average glass bottle weighs 8 ounces.


  • 2.35 million tons or 22 percent*

  • 11 states require deposits on glass beverage containers.

Recycled Content:

  • 26 percent (U.S.-produced bottles)

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


  • Glass does not compost.

Incinerated or Landfilled:

  • 8.3 million tons or 5.1 percent 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 percent 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 percent 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.


  • Majority of recovered glass is made into new glass bottles.

  • Fiberglass is the second-largest market.

  • Other markets include abrasives, “glasphalt”, glass beads for reflective paint and filler in storm 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, rocks and ceramic closures.