Wine bottles are made from glass. As such, they should be recyclable, right? The thing is, some state’s recycling programs don’t accept them. Why is that? Can wine bottles be recycled?
Wine bottles can be recycled, but due to difficulties in sorting bottles by glass color and high transportation costs, they aren’t recycled as much as they should be. Read on for the details.
You’ve had your sustainable wine, and are looking to safely dispose of the bottle. Wine bottles are among the easiest items to recycle, since they’re made of glass. And glass can be recycled over and over, with minuscule, if any, degradation in the glass quality. So that’s great – and glass can form a near-perfect closed loop of supply and demand. But for wine bottles, the problem arises partly due to the coloring of the glass.
The bottles have to be sorted properly by color prior to recycling. This is because glass tends to retain its color even after recycling, so they don’t want mixing of the different colors.
Wait, so it’s pretty much an aesthetics issue?
Not really. The wine industry has standards to meet for various things, including the bottle color. The bottles are colored to prevent the passing of UV rays that could oxidize and age the wine contained inside.
Why Can’t Wine Bottles Be Recycled?
Here’s a shocking statistic: Non-recycled glass makes up about 5% of the waste that goes into American landfills each year. Why isn’t all that virgin glass being recycled?
Let’s focus on wine bottles made of glass. Theoretically it’s very simple to recycle a wine bottle made of glass, so why aren’t enough wine bottles being recycled?
The hurdles are numerous. First, your local recycling center should accept items for glass recycling (even if you have diligently sorted the bottles and placed them at your curbside pickup). If they don’t, the glass bottles get tossed into the landfill.
Second, the recycling center that accepts glass bottles has to sort the bottles by color: shades of green and blue in one group; brown, red, pink amber in another group; and then a third group for clear glass. Anything that doesn’t neatly fall into one of these groups gets tossed into the landfill.
Third, the sorted glass bottles have to be transported to the closest recycling facility. This can get expensive, since glass is heavy, and transporting glass costs money. This is where even the most well-intentioned recycling program can break down. If the transportation isn’t cost effective to the recycler, then the bottles are tossed into the landfill.
Fourth, the recycling facility, after receiving the bottles, will clean, sort (according to melting temperature) and crush the bottles into cullets. These cullets are mixed with sand and limestone, and heated up to a high temperature (2600 to 2800 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the type of glass). The molten glass thus made is used to create new items, including new bottles of wine. Currently, up to 70% of wine bottles are made from recycled glass.
The most common community-sponsored recycling system in the United States is single-stream recycling, where glass, plastic and paper are dropped into the same recycle bin. Knowing the complexity of recycling glass, you can see the problem with this system. We need to figure out a way to have multi-stream recycling, where glass, paper/cardboard, and plastic are placed in three different bins, and collected and processed separately. It’s more expensive, but obviously necessary to reduce landfill waste.
Did you know: up to 60% of wine’s carbon footprint comes from manufacturing the glass bottle. Wouldn’t it make a big difference if they used recycled glass, instead of new glass? In fact, cullets need less energy for melting, and fewer emissions are generated. As wine drinkers, we need to make sure the wine manufacturers know about this!
How Can You Dispose of Empty Wine Bottles?
1 / Check with your local recycling center if they accept wine bottles for recycling. If they do, you’re in luck. Rinse your empty bottles, and send them on for recycling. You can’t really control, as an individual consumer, what happens to your empty wine bottles after you send them to the recycling center. But you can do something – as you’ll see in the next section.
2 / If you are handy, you could upcycle the bottles into numerous decor items and even for storage (bottles are great for storing food items and the occasional mulled wine). You could turn it into a wine bottle light. You can cut the glass bottle into quirky glasses.
How You Can Help Increase Glass Recycling
- Work with your local restaurants or winery or retailer (whichever is accessible to you), and push them into incorporating glass recycling and repurposing into their business operations. (Refresh Glass is a start-up that can help.)
- Work with your community to enhance the recycling program to include glass recycling and single-stream recycling. Educate yourself and others on glass recycling, how to avoid contaminating recyclables, etc., and promote transparency regarding the realities of the local recycling program.
- Try to buy recycled glass products for your dining and kitchen needs. Especially buy wine that comes in recycled bottles. Bunker Hill Vineyard, the “greenest winery in America,” bottles its wines in 100% recycled bottles (which helps them to reduce their carbon footprint by a whopping 60%!).
Repurpose and Recycle
In the case of wine consumption, ‘reduce’ is not an option!;) But the next time you find yourself with an empty wine bottle, see if you can repurpose it somehow at home. If not, try your best to recycle it.
According to the EPA, the glass recycling rate in the US is 31.3% (percentage of recycled glass materials in the year’s production of glass containers – 2018 data). Looks like there’s a whole lot of room for improvement!
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