The humble glass jar holds all kinds of delicious products in your kitchen: sandwich spreads, jams and jellies, spaghetti sauce, pickles and much more. You can feel good about buying foods packaged in glass jars, as they don’t leach chemicals into food, and they are one of the most recyclable products out there.
Most communities accept glass jars at the curb or at local recycling centers. Even if they do not, reuse ideas abound, so you should have no trouble keeping your glass jars out of landfills and incinerators.
How jars get recycled
Glass, which is made of naturally occurring materials such as sand and limestone, can be recycled endlessly. Once glass is collected at your curb or at your local recycling center, it heads to a recycling plant to be crushed into small pieces called cullet. The cullet is then put in a furnace and combined with small amounts of the materials needed to create new glass. The furnace heats up to between 2,600º and 2,800ºF depending on the makeup of glass. Once the glass is hot enough to liquefy, it can be formed into new vessels.
In addition to making new jars, manufacturers can use recycled glass for products such as tile, beads, fiberglass
, television screens and roadbed underlay (in place of gravel).
Manmade glass has been around for thousands of years. Humans first became intrigued by seeing glass in obsidian and other natural forms. The Egyptians and Mesopotamians learned to heat elements and form glass into basic shapes around 3,500 B.C., and vessels around 1,500 B.C. Recycling glass is a much more recent discovery, of course, but it is a good thing people figured out how to do it.
Why should I recycle jars?
Turning old glass jars into new ones represents a big win for the environment. New glass can be made with up to 70% cullet, so using recycled glass means less mining for new materials. It also means less energy (cullet melts at a lower temperature than brand-new materials); a longer life for glass furnaces; and reduced carbon emissions. Every 6 tons of glass that gets recycled saves 1 ton of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
Not everyone has gotten the word about the benefits of glass recycling, however. Only 28% of the glass Americans buy gets recycled, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports, which means manufacturers are always on the lookout for clean, high-quality cullet. Returning your glass jars to a recycling center helps them find it.
Recycling glass is good for the economy, too. The Container Recycling Institute
, a nonprofit that encourages consumers to recycle various types of packaging, reports that recycling just 1,000 tons of glass creates eight jobs.
How to recycle jars
Glass is one of the most common items included in curbside collection programs, although most communities require you to separate glass from other items for safety reasons. If glass is not accepted through your curbside program, your local recycling center almost certainly takes it. 1800Recycling’s recycle search tool
can help you find a recycling location near you.
Be sure to remove any lids from your jars and rinse them well before putting them in your recycling bin. Most jar lids cannot be recycled, although if you put metal canning rings around home-canned products, those can be reused indefinitely. Lids should not be reused in canning, but if you use jars to store other items (like rice, pasta or iced tea) you can reuse the lids for that purpose.
Do not include any other types of glass with your jars. Items like drinking glasses, Pyrex pans, blenders, window glass and mirrors have different properties and cannot be recycled with jars. Mixing these different types of glass will result in unusable glass that can damage equipment at recycling facilities.
If you take your glass to a recycling center, be sure and sort it by color if given the option. Green, brown and clear glass separated by color is easier to recycle and can fetch a higher price from recyclers.
How to reuse jars
Glass jars, especially canning jars and jars with unusual shapes, are very trendy right now and have plenty of reuse options. If you do not want to use jars for drinking glasses or vases, donate them to a thrift store so crafters or home canners can claim them.
The blog By Stephanie Lynn
has 50 cute ideas for repurposing glass jars, including using them to hold photographs and make terrariums for plants.
Another popular way to reuse jars is to serve food in them. Desserts like these delicious no-bake cheesecakes
from Women’s Day
look pretty in small jars. It is possible to bake brownies, cakes and pies in jars; check out this cherry-pie-in-a-jar recipe
from The Cooking Channel. Martha Stewart devoted a show
to ideas about serving whole meals various in canning jars. Her recipes for salads, dips, main dishes and sangria may inspire a picnic.