I’ve been working my way through a post called 10 Easy Sustainable Things You Can Do Now. The post is focused on easy swaps you can do at home. A little effort can have a big impact. While working through the post I realized that each one deserved more than a quick review; if you choose to dive deeper. I am really passionate about each sustainability tip so here we go; next up is Save Glass Jars to Hold All the Things.
Over the next several months I will share ten sustainability tips. I challenge you to implement one at a time; allow it to become a part of your daily habits, then implement another. Over time each step you take will become easier. To the point where you don’t notice that you are conscientiously making great strides in reducing your environmental footprint. It’s these little things that add up and make a big difference. And they really are easy!
Let’s get to it!
The list is building, check out the sustainability tips we’ve shared so far:
- Paper Towel Alternative – Hand Towels
- Save Glass Jars to Hold All the Things
- Swap Plastic Toothbrushes for Bamboo
- What to Do with Old Hangers
2. Save Glass Jars to Hold All the Things
This eco-friendly tip is all about reducing and reusing. You buy tomato sauce or jam or anything else that comes in a glass jar at the store; you could recycle it but why not save some for storing all the things in your house. Of course all the things that can fit in it!
For example, I have a stash of glass jars waiting to hold salt, leftovers, spices, etc…. We pack food to-go for a guest and are not be worried if never see that dish again. I’ve used glass jars to store crafting knick knacks like buttons, thread, and hot glue sticks. There are glass jars in our bathroom holding bath scrubs, dental floss and hair ties to give you a couple more ideas.
You got a craft you want to do that needs jars, like making candles, take some time to save some before buying that perfect set of newly curated jars. It will save you money and also add a visual interest to your craft with the various types of jars used.
I also like to save glass jars to display flowers; the uses are endless, give it a try!
According to the EPA: “Glass, especially glass food and beverage containers, can be recycled over and over again. In the United States in 2018, 12.3 million tons of glass were generated, 25 percent of which was recovered for recycling. Making new glass from recycled glass is typically cheaper than using raw materials. Most curbside community recycling programs accept different glass colors and types mixed together, and then glass is sorted at the recovery facility. Check with your local program to see if you need to separate your glass or if it can be mixed together.”
Glass’ Environmental Impact
Keeping in mind that glass can continually be recycled and not lose its integrity means that the decomposition of glass is near non-existent. If glass is reused and recycled properly it is beneficial in uses like streets, tiles, wine bottles, etc…. However, if not reused or recycled properly glass will end up in landfills taking up space. Glass doesn’t leach harmful chemicals into our water table or environment but the fact that it can be reused and it isn’t is just not smart.
Let’s look at some numbers included in C&EN’s article, “Why glass recycling in the US is broken” as provided by the Glass Packaging Institute:
- 10 million metric tons of glass is disposed of every year in the US.
- 33% of waste glass gets recycled in the US.
- 90% of disposed glass gets recycled in several European nations, on average.
- 40% of glass thrown into single-stream recycling collections actually gets recycled.
- 90% of glass put into multi-stream collections gets recycled.
- 5% of CO2 emissions are cut for every 10% of glassmaking mix substituted with cullet.
Hmmm, why is only a third of glass in the US being recycled? According to the same article which is a really good read and I highly recommend:
‘“There are many reasons why more glass isn’t recycled in the US,” says David Rue, an engineer at the Gas Technology Institute near Chicago who recently completed a yearlong study of US glass recycling as a consultant for GMIC. The US glass-recycling shortfall comes down to the interplay between the quality and availability of cullet [the granular material from broken down glass] and the economics of making glass, he explains. And, he says, the recycling rate discrepancies between the US and other countries result mainly from differences in government policy and consumer education and habits. By understanding these hurdles to glass recycling, GMIC, GPI, and other industry groups hope to boost the rate in the US.’
Note that 90% of disposed glass gets recycled in several European nations and 90% of glass put into multi-stream collections gets recycled. The rate of recycled glass in these nations is directly related to the multi-stream collections they have built into their city plan. Multi-stream collections means that glass gets separated for recycling at the consumer level. I remember growing up we had separate bins for glass, paper, and plastic/aluminum. Not sure exactly when that changed but now we (in San Diego) operate with a single recycle bin; aka single-stream recycling collection.
A single-stream recycling collection means that everything that can be recycled is thrown into one bin at the consumer level then sorted through at a recycle plant. There are multiple layers of sorting completed in order to remove non-recyclable and dangerous materials that people “wish-cycle”. It is a lengthy and expensive process that is super inefficient, especially since items that shouldn’t be recycled some of which end up getting past the sorting process will contaminate the whole lot for recycling. No wonder only 33% of waste glass gets recycled in the US when 40% of glass thrown into single-stream recycling collections actually gets recycled.
Save Glass Jars – What You Can Do?
When selecting your condiments, beverages, or anything else you purchase, choose glass wherever and whenever possible. Glass when treated properly can have many environmental benefits because the integrity of the substance doesn’t degrade. Not like plastic. We can recycle plastic but it has to be downcycled because it loses structural integrity until it becomes a micro plastic causing a load of other issues.
We have the power to tell brands what we want to see on the shelves by the way we purchase our items. Allow your purchasing power to speak to manufacturers. Save the glass containers for all the things; leftovers, crafts, knick knacks, etc…. Or if you don’t need them add them to the recycle bin for new glass to be made but make sure you are not including your wish-cycling materials. Check out WM’s Recycling 101 to freshen up on what can and cannot be recycled. Remember all areas are different so check with your local facility if you have any additional questions on what can and cannot be recycled.
SO… How Do You Actually Put this into Practice?
When you make a purchase select an item in the glass jar. Use said item as you please. Clean the jars with some soap and water. I also run the jars through the dishwasher but not the lids if they are metal. If you are like me I don’t like labels so I place the jars in the sink to soak with hot water and soap inside before doing anything else. Honestly I let them sit there until I am ready to tackle the scrubbing of the label (sometimes those labels are beasts!). Using a food scraper I start scraping away the label with a little extra soap and water. I have learned that some glue on the labels just won’t come off. It is up to you whether you want to keep that particular jar or let it go to recycling.
I find that creating a bit of space to store your jars is good practice so you can keep them out of sight thus reducing your anxiety of having to use them right away and of clutter. It is also a nice way to see what jars you are collecting. Is there a certain size you like or use often? Do you want to mix up your jars for things you have in mind? I have a collection of jam and spaghetti jars which are awesome for a whole load of things but I also have a couple of smaller olive oil jars with the slow pour lid and face wash jars with pumps that may come in handy. I’m thinking homemade infused olive oil and hand soap dispensers.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Take your time when starting to save glass jars. At first it will feel like it will never happen. Then a tipping point will come when you have too many jars and it is OK to let them go. Share them with friends and family, donate them to Goodwill and the like, or recycle them for a new future. I had tons of glass jars sitting around “taking up space” and I couldn’t envision why I needed them. Little by little I was able to see where they could be used around the house and eventually the glass hoarding problem I thought I developed started to diminish. I was also able to start letting some go in the recycle bin because that is OK too!
More At Home Sustainable Practices
While you are waiting for the rest of the posts that make up 10 Easy Sustainable Things You Can Do Now please check out other sustainability practices we have implemented. See if any are a fit for you!
Our Experience with Reusable Diapers
Our Elimination Communication Journey
Reusable Produce Bags + Beeswax Food Wrap
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