Wine bottle glass is 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without loss in quality or purity - something few other beverage containers can claim. Up to 60% of wine’s carbon footprint comes from manufacturing the glass bottle. That is a large amount of carbon in one part of the wine industry. So this is a good reason to do something responsible with the wine bottle once you are done sharing your favourite red, white or champagne alike.
Recently the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported that only 28% of the glass Americans buy gets recycled. Which is not a great percentage, when you think glass can be recycled forever, and turning an old bottle into something new represents a big win for the environment and all of us. So here is a brief look at how wine bottles are recycled.


Assuming your local authority accepts glass at the curb-side or at recycling centres. Glass is then grouped, sorted by colour - typically shades of green (including shades of blue), brown (including amber, red and pink) and clear - so be sure and pay attention to whether you need to do that separation yourself as it all helps, but for most of us (i.e. home curb-side collection) all colours simply go into one bin on rubbish day. But if you are lucky enough to have a glass recycling centre - they can have coloured glass bins to make sure this process is easier down the recycling production process.
At glass processing plants, recycled glass is cleaned and sorted to spec, then resold to the glass container manufacturing companies for re-melting into new food and beverage containers. When used glass makes it to a recycling facility it is again sorted, broken, and then crushed into small pieces called ‘cullet’. Furnace-ready cullet must also be free of contaminants such as metals, ceramics, gravel, stones etc.
Colour sorting makes a difference. Glass manufacturers are limited in the amount of mixed colour-cullet (called ‘3 mix’) they can use to manufacture new bottles. Separating recycled container glass by colour allows the industry to ensure that new bottles match the colour standards required.
The cullet is put into a furnace and combined with a small amount of the materials needed to create new glass, including sand, soda ash and limestone. The furnace heats up to about 1500°C depending on the type of molten glass is being made. Once the glass is liquefied it can be formed into new containers. Besides becoming a new container, recycled glass can also become building materials such as tiles, beads, fiberglass, road base (in place of gravel) and also match heads to name just a few of its uses.
New glass can be made with up to 95% cullet, so using recycled glass means less mining for new materials. It also means less energy usage, since cullet melts at a lower temperature than brand-new materials, as well as a longer life for glass furnaces and fewer carbon emissions. For every 6 tons of glass that gets recycled, saves 1 ton of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.
Glass manufacturers are always on the lookout for clean, good-quality cullet. There is never enough out there, reports the Glass Packaging Institute. Also, please do your best to rinse each container well before putting it in the recycling bin.
Recycled glass containers are always needed because glass manufacturers require high-quality recycled container glass to meet market demands for new glass containers. Recycled glass is always part of the recipe for glass, and the more that is used, the greater the decrease in energy used in the furnace.
The recycling approach that the industry favours is any recycling program that results in contaminant-free recycled glass. This helps ensure that these materials are recycled into new glass containers. While curb-side collection of glass recyclables can in some suburbs generate large amounts, drop-off and commercial collection programs tend to yield higher quality recovered container glass.
Back in 2008, New York passed a law requiring all Licensed Alcohol Premises to recycle their glass beverage containers. Since then, they have improved the amount of glass bottles recovered for recycling from about 45,000 tons/year before the law to more than 86,000 tons in 2011. In 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - 34.5% of wine and liquor bottles were recycled - still plenty of room for improvement.
The manufacturing industry is always looking to reduce carbon emissions and transportation issues alike - so glass bottles have been reduced in weight by approximately 40% over the past 30 years. The glass manufacturing process produces very little waste. In fact, glass can be made in a closed-loop cycle, meaning the end-of-life material from glass can be used to remake the exact same product - over and over again. By maximising the amount of recycled glass used in the production process, manufacturers reduce their environmental impact.
O-I New Zealand is the country’s largest user of recycled glass. And they are a major voice and participating member in New Zealand to improve the recycling process across the entire country. As of 2015 across all types of recycled glass produced, they contained approximately 67% cullet. Which is a great deal higher than many others - but they are always looking to improve this statistic.
Globally in 2014 there was 4.7 million metric tonnes of cullet purchased. As a percentage of the amount of glass produced around the world - cullet made up the following statistics: Globally 38%, Europe 49%, North America 26%, South America 28%, Asia & Pacific 36%, so as you can see still room for a great deal of improvement. So please make sure you pay more attention at home and work from today, on what you are recycling.