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Does Plastic or Glass Require More Energy to Recycle?

By Ken Black
Updated May 17, 2024
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The more research that one conducts on this topic, the more the answer becomes very clear. Glass takes more energy to recycle than plastic. This is true for a number of different reasons.

To understand those reasons, it is first necessary to understand that glass takes more energy to initially produce. The exact amount of energy required, of course, depends on the type of glass product being produced. A number of different factors go into this including the size of the unit, its thickness, shape and any number of other possible factors. However, once produced, glass can last considerably longer than some plastics.

Glass is also not as efficiently recycled as plastic. The Glass Packaging Institute notes that recycling glass uses 66 percent of the energy it would take to manufacture new glass, on average. Plastic shows a much greater efficiency in using energy to recycle, only requiring 10 percent of the energy it takes to produce new plastic.

Given that plastic, generally, uses less energy to produce than glass, and given that plastic also uses less energy when being recyeled, on average, than glass, the answer to this question seems clear. However, there are other factors to consider when choosing a packaging product.

In some cases, even though glass may take more energy to recycle, it could be the best option. Glass can be more protective, in some cases, than plastic. Glass also may preserve the taste and character of some foods and beverages better than plastic.

It is also important to remember that no matter what product is chosen, it will take a substantial amount of energy to recycle it. There are energy costs associated with pickup and transportation to a sorting facility. From there, the products may be forwarded to a recycling center where it will be actually be processed.

Given the fact that any product can take a significant amount of energy to recycle, there are other options that can be considered. Some of these may be just as good as recycling, if not better. The United States Environmental Protection Agency uses the phrase "reduce, reuse and recycle" to promote good conservation practices. The phrase is simple to remember, but represents so much more than a memorable jingle.

Many do not realize this is not just a simple saying but rather a way to prioritize the use of products. Reducing the use of certain products, whether they be glass, plastic or something else, is the best option because if the product does not have an initial use, there is no reason to manufacture it. Reusing a product comes next. This is an attractive option because it takes no energy to recycle. The consumer is simply finding a secondary use for the product or repeating the primary use. Recycling is the third option in the hierarchy.

In addition to reducing the amount of energy needed to recycle, there are other reasons why recycling is important. First, recycling uses fewer natural resources because natural resources already harvested are being reused. Second, recycling keeps the landfills from receiving as much trash as they would otherwise.

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Discussion Comments
By anon991257 — On Jun 07, 2015

Don't believe glass takes more energy than plastic. Plastic is made out of oil.

By anon946601 — On Apr 21, 2014

In my opinion, it would be better to use glass as a medium for packaging and many other things instead of plastic. This is because even if it needs more energy to recycle than plastic, it provides a safer way, especially for health (because of diseases that plastics can cause), and it can last for longer. In the case of glass, it can also be used several times for different things.

The slogan “reduce, reuse and recycle”, is important. By reducing less materials are used, by giving a second use to things (reuse) we can help reducing and finally by recycling we can reduce pollution. It is a way of being eco-friendly.--Irene

By DiegoGarcia — On Apr 13, 2014

We know that plastic and glass are both recyclable products, but I think we should opt for glass because it can last for a longer time and is safer for our health.

Another problem is that the rubbish that we think we recycle is usually thrown to the landfill instead of being recycled. So I think that we should invest more money in finding ways to confirm that the rubbish is recycled.

By anon945318 — On Apr 12, 2014

I think it is always better to use glass because it lasts longer and it is easier to reuse. As it takes 60 percent of the energy used to produce it to be recycled, we have to try to use it as many times as possible.

By anon945211 — On Apr 11, 2014

It seems to me that although glass requires more energy to recycle, it's somehow better because it lasts for a longer period of time and it's safer. And I believe that we could use more glass and reduce the production and consumption of plastics, insomuch as they are damaging our world.-- Sandra

By anon944853 — On Apr 09, 2014

In my opinion, I think we should introduce glass in our life (have a balance between plastic and glass) try to reduce the consumption of plastic (glass sometimes is safer) and try to make our world cleaner. --Cristian

By anon943607 — On Apr 02, 2014

I personally feel that the key actions people should focus on, in order to reduce our levels of pollution, are reducing and reusing. When you reduce, for example, the number of the packaged products you buy, what you are doing is stop supporting plastic pollution. If you reuse instead, you don't have the necessity of buying a new thing and thus, you stop supporting the production of a non-biodegradable material again.-- Mónica

By anon324734 — On Mar 12, 2013

Another thing to think about is that plastic can only be 'down-cycled' - that is, food grade plastic (e.g. things like plastic water/soda bottles) cannot be recycled into more food grade plastic material. It is typically recycled into things like plastic lumber, doormats, etc. Glass is one of the few materials that can be recycled infinitely without losing strength, purity or quality.

Also, you might want to familiarize yourself with the 'gyres', or floating trash piles in our oceans, which are filled with plastic waste and cause the death of marine life and birds.

By anon170065 — On Apr 24, 2011

I am currently studying sustainability and i am focusing on waste management. I agree reduce, reduce and recycle is the way to go! Though what does it mean to reduce? I believe it means to stop buying packaged foods l and this means to perhaps grow your own food, swap with your community, buy from the local markets or direct from the producer!

It is too much about convenience and we each have to take responsibility for our actions rather than pointing the finger at business, since if we didn't support the products, they would have no market to sell to! This idea extends to the upgrade purchases of technology and the like. What happened to fixes and repairs? It's just too easy to replace these days! Perhaps rather than watching television, spend time growing and making your food! Check out Permaculture! --Amanda R.

By anon148193 — On Jan 31, 2011

Doesn't anyone remember when glass soda bottles were reused? I'm not tat old but i remember taking bottles to the local convenience store. I got 10 cents and immediately bought 10 licorice fish.

The point of my story is that the bottle i returned was not recycled, but re-used. It was washed and refilled with soda for the next guy. i remember the widest part of the bottles were scuffed from the repeated jostling with the other bottles in the bottling plant. In fact, these areas of the bottles were reinforced with thicker glass to prolong bottle life.

By GenevaMech — On Nov 19, 2010

@ Chicada- I have actually bought the chips in the biodegradable bag, and like you I thought it was a great idea. Sadly, Frito Lays (I think) discontinued the bags because they crinkled too loudly. Customers were calling to complain that the chip bags were too loud and they demanded change. Of course, the company bent...anything to prevent loss of market share. I thought this was just a ridiculous example of how convenience trumps foresight. People are too concerned with the inconvenience of waking their spouse while snacking on chips late at night then what is good for all.

By chicada — On Nov 19, 2010

@ PelesTears- I have noticed that some snack foods manufacturers are producing biodegradable packaging. This sounds like such a good idea that I am surprised that more companies have not adopted this type of packaging. The commercials say that the bags will completely compost in about a week. If people keep recycling cans and bottles and food manufacturers adopt this type of packaging industry wide, there could potentially be a 25% or more reduction in the amount of non-biodegradable waste that ends up in landfills. This would help to alleviate the stress of piling waste that affects many of the world's largest cities.

By PelesTears — On Nov 19, 2010

The reduce part of the reduce reuse recycle slogan is probably one of the most important parts. I was watching a short interview on CNN that had to do with recycling and waste re-use. The news station was interviewing an entrepreneur who was talking about the wastes created by humans. Approximately 70 percent of the average person’s non-recyclable waste is material like cellophane, plastics, and layered paper and plastic products. These are things like chip bags, juice boxes, toothpaste tubes, and pet food bags.

In most cases, products are packaged with more packaging than necessary. You would think by now, manufacturers would have engineered a way to package their products so they use less material and create less waste. Especially as resources become scarcer, these antiquated ideas on packaging will cost a company more money. More money to process waste and more money in the cost of goods attributed to the cost of packaging.

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