The weekend science ticket. Glass of the future!


A glass bottle takes three to four millennia to decompose in nature, while recycling a single bottle can power a low-energy light bulb for 24 hours. (Illustration) (ASCENT / PKS MEDIA INC. / STONE RF / GETTY IMAGES)

Each French person throws away an average of 30 kilos of glass per year, which represents 12% of household waste. However, don’t worry, this material can be recycled endlessly. The crushed glass, or cullet, is mixed with raw materials such as sand or soda ash, before being passed again in the oven.

The advantage of using cullet is that it saves exhaustible virgin resources. One tonne of cullet saves 1.2 tonnes of virgin raw materials and 300 kgs of CO2 “, highlighted Xavier Meyer, circular economy manager for Saint-Gobain Glass.

According to ADEME, the Ecological Transition Agency, 3 out of 4 glass bottles are recycled in France. Thanks to this already efficient sector, professionals in the sector can achieve a. Indeed, the initial production of glass is very energy intensive because it requires heating sand, soda and limestone to 1,500 degrees.

3 out of 4 glass bottles are recycled in France.  (Drawing)
3 out of 4 glass bottles are recycled in France. (Illustration) (MONTY RAKUSEN / CULTURA RF / GETTY IMAGES)

However, the recycling of certain types of glass is not as well developed. Certain materials such as building glass, television screens or end-of-life windshields must undergo decontamination before they can be recycled. This therefore requires a particular effort on the part of professional glassmakers, more especially in the manufacture of these glasses.

In France, more than 90% of end-of-life windows go to landfill. Our group will develop a network of partners-collectors-dismantlers. This can only be done if we have good quality cullet. The smallest impurity can generate pollution in a furnace and thus be expensive, financially and ecologically.

Xavier Meyer, Saint-Gobain Glass

Recycling glass is also part of everyone’s daily life. A glass bottle takes three to four millennia to decompose in nature, while recycling a single bottle can power a low-energy light bulb for 24 hours or a computer for half an hour. However, not all glass containers are recyclable. This is particularly the case of glass dishes, generally made of transparent ceramic, and whose melting temperature is much higher than that of glass.

In France, the glass industry represents 4 billion euros in turnover, for more than 5 million tonnes manufactured per year. The recycling channel then takes on its full meaning. Sand is one of the most used resources, after water and air, but more than fossil fuels such as petroleum or coal!

Encouraging the reuse of glass, which can be recycled indefinitely, is one of the reasons for ADEME’s support for this type of recycling, which generates savings in raw materials, particularly sand, and reduces our carbon emissions.

Arnaud Leroy, President of ADEME

Worldwide, 40 billion tonnes of sand are used per year, including 30 million for construction materials (concrete, glass, etc.). Sand is also used for the manufacture of microprocessors, solar panels, for water filtration, etc … While beaches and even entire islands disappear every year, victims of overexploitation, we now come to use sand at the bottom of the sea: huge ships are capable of carrying up to 400,000 m3 of sand per day. Looting of the seabed which has serious consequences for the flora and fauna.

However, part of the glass can again be transformed into sand, especially that which is never recycled (¼ of the glass is thrown away). When exiting the report “Sand and sustainable development” in May 2019, Joyce Msuya, acting executive director of UN environment said:

“We are spending our sand ‘budget’ faster than we can responsibly produce it. By improving the governance of the world’s sand resources, we can better manage this essential resource in a sustainable manner and demonstrate that infrastructure and nature can go hand in hand.”

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