Last week, a former associate called looking for ideas on who could recycle old commercial glass. As Joe Puishys of Apogee mentioned at the BEC Conference, 1 percent of commercial glazing is new construction, and the other 99 percent is in existing buildings, just waiting for upgrades to better, more energy-conscious glass products. So, the question is: What do you do with the old glass? The answer, unfortunately, is it usually gets hauled to the landfill.
Technically, there are a number of good reasons why this happens. First, a building may be slated for demolition, and removing the glass is a pretty labor-intensive effort with no immediate payback that justifies the expense to recycle it, if that’s even possible. I’ve seen buildings demolished with the glass in place, and the demo crew pulls out the curtainwall or window aluminum and/or the structural steel as part of the demo and obviously hauls that metal to the scrap dealer. The glass is hauled to the landfill with all the other materials that can’t be re-used.
In a remodel, not only can the glass be replaced, but the framing can be replaced, as well. Removing old aluminum framing, there’s no question there’s value in it as scrap, so off to the scrap metal dealer it goes. This is exactly where glass and metal differ – remodel or demolition, it doesn’t matter: there’s no one to take the old glass and turn it into cullet.
Commercial glass, it appears, has painted itself into a corner just by the value-added nature of the beast. A glass beer bottle or pickle jar is fairly easy to recycle. It may be clear or green or amber glass, but there’s not much else that is done with it. So, to recycle it, nothing has to be undone, it’s broken up and re-melted and re-cast as a new bottle or jar.
When making laminated glass, or turning it into a reflective or low-E coated product, or making it part of an insulating glass unit, the glass can’t be recycled, as there are not commercially available means to undo all those changes and return the glass to its near-original condition. Tinted glass isn’t as common as it once was, but it can’t be bleached to return it to clear glass.
Aside from turning recycled glass into bottles and jars, it can be turned into bead blast media or fiberglass, or even used as aggregate in concrete, as a component in asphalt, and hundreds of other uses. That’s a cakewalk. But so far, there’s not much demand or an easy process for turning commercial glass into cullet.
I’d like to pose a few questions for which I don’t know the answers:
- Who is going to take the lead in developing commercial glass recycling methods?
- Do any of the current players, including float glass manufacturers or fabricators, have a responsibility to do so? Or, will a recycling method come from a wholly different quarter?
- Is this a business model that has to be set up regionally, or can it be done nationally?
I’d be most interested in hearing any feedback or of any developments to this end – as would someone I know who has some glass they want to send you. Call me; I’ll give you their contact info.
If you’re looking for an idea to launch a business, there it is.