Reuse Glass Before Recycling It

By , March 21, 2012

As I argued in the last post, anything we can reuse should really never be recycled. For instance, glass.

Consider: glass doesn’t decompose. This means that if kept in a usable form (such as a bottle or jar) it will not wear out in many, many lifetimes. As long as it’s kept unbroken it can serve its original purpose indefinitely.

This is why you find so many glass containers in old homes and ghost towns. Or, would, if collectors hadn’t come through ahead of you and cleaned them out as antiques. This is also why I get in so much trouble with Michelle, because I try to hang on to as much glass as I can, against the day it might become useful.

reused glass

A typical day of reusing glass. See identification key below (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

She understands to an extent. She leads the charge in collecting and saving sound canning jars. These take pride of place in our storage areas, and more are always welcome. She’s less understanding of my hoard of wine bottles, and I’ve given up on buying glass drinkingware that catches my fancy in the secondhand stores.

Nevertheless, we try to keep as much glass as we can store, and put it to reasonable use. If we don’t need it today or tomorrow, it’ll still be ready to use years from now, for no more additional resource use than the water and soap to clean it up.

The photo accompanying this post illustrates this perfectly. I took it one day after removing labels from marmite jars. When I saw it, I began to realize just how much reused glass the photo contains. In it, you see:

  1. Canning jars. The quart jar has a plastic twist cap that is handy alternative to the canning ring and lid for resealing after use.
  2. Marmite jars. These will soon be filled with homemade salve. Their yellow lids can also be seen in the drainer.
  3. Lids from a glass canister set. The canisters have broken. Aly used the broken glass to make glass beads with a local artist; I’ve saved the lids to make sun catchers, but at the moment, I use them to weight must bags in home wine making.
  4. This commercial marmalade jar once held homemade marmalade, then served as our first yeast expander; currently, it holds our collection of beach glass.
  5. Glass gallon jar and lid. The jar currently holds bulk sweetener. The lid in the drainer has been drilled for a stopper and airlock, to make a primary fermenter for home wine making.

In addition, you can see a plastic container and lid that have been reused many times for a variety of tasks.

The only really limiting factor in glass containers is the lid. Metal and plastic has less longevity than glass. Even so, there are other ways to secure a glass container missing its original lid. It just takes a little forethought and ingenuity.

Glass is a lot sturdier than we’re taught to believe. What action movie would be complete without a bottle broken over someone’s head, or someone getting thrown through a plate glass window. In the real world, most people hit over the head with a bottle go down hard with a serious injury, while the bottle isn’t even chipped. Most of the glass containers in your home will outlive you.

Glass can and does break, of course. When we break a glass container, we put it in the recycling bin, but rarely before.

You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger, available in print, eBook, and audiobook editions. The published version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.

2 Responses to “Reuse Glass Before Recycling It”

  1. Jamaya says:

    I agree. While living in Germany, no one threw out glass. And they had such little trash on trash days.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    No one produces trash like Americans. Yet another reason for us to chant “We’re number one!” over and over.

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