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Profiles in Garbage: Glass Containers

Glass is largely recycled domestically, often in the region where it was collected.

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.

More than half of the bottles produced in the United States are brown. Clear (also known as flint) bottles are the next largest in production. Most of the remainder are green with a small amount of blue or other colors.

In 2010, approximately 25 billion glass containers were made in the United States. About 80 percent were beverage containers, almost three-quarters of which were beer bottles. The rest were mostly food containers. Another 5 billion bottles are imported. Most of these are green or brown wine and beer bottles.

Glass container use in the United States peaked in the 1980s. Tonnage has declined by 2.5 million tons since 1990. This decline is caused because lighter weight aluminum and plastic containers have replaced glass bottles.

Other glass products such as window glass, fiberglass and glassware use different manufacturing processes and different additives than container glass. This profile omits non-container glass.

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


Glass Container Facts*


  • 9.36 million tons or 3.7% by weight.
  • 60.6 pounds per person per year.
  • 121 bottles per person per year.
  • Average glass bottle weighs 8 oz.


  • 3.13 million tons, a 33.4% recycling rate.
  • Ten states require deposits on glass beverage containers.
  • Those states have the highest tonnages and percentages of glass bottles recycled.

Recycled Content:

  • 26% (U.S. produced bottles).
  • A glass bottle can have up to 70% recycled content.


  • Glass does not compost.

Burned or Landfilled:

  • 6.23 million tons or 3.8% 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.

Landfill Density:

  • 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 were 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.


  • The majority 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: GC-2009 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, www.census.gov

Glass Packaging Institute, Alexandria, Va., www.gpi.org

“Measurement Standards and Reporting Guidelines,” National Recycling Coalition, Washington, www.nrc-recycle.org

“Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: 2010 Facts and Figures,” U.S. EPA, Office of Solid Waste, www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/msw99.htm

Scrap Specifications Circular 2011, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Washington, www.isri.org

* Data is from 2010 EPA estimates, except where noted.

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