Sustainable Material Spotlight: Recycled Glass
Infinitely recyclable glass is going mainstream in core building and design materials.
These days, you don’t have to look far to see upcycled glass. Caterers and restaurants use Mason jars for cocktails and lemonade. DIYers repurpose wine bottles into candle holders or melt them down to create coasters or spoon rests. Glass can also be recycled for large-scale home products like countertops, wall panels and sculptured art.
By some measures, glass is one of the most sustainable materials on the planet. According to the National Institutes of Health’s Chemical Waste Services(link is external) (CWS), it can be recycled infinitely without losing its purity or durability. That means today’s clients—more than 50% of whom are interested in sustainability, according to NAR data—are increasingly attracted to recycled glass products in the home.
Recycled Glass 101
In most cases, recycled glass(link is external) is glass that has been crushed and reheated. Crushed glass can also be mixed with other materials to make concrete(link is external) products or terrazzo countertops.
But one of the most sustainable things to do with old glass containers is reuse rather than recycle them, says Ravindra Duddu, Ph.D., associate professor(link is external) of civil and environmental engineering at Vanderbilt University.
“Glass is heavy compared to plastic, so the carbon emissions from transporting glass containers is higher compared to plastic,” he explains.
Of course, he says recycling glass can still help reduce environmental problems stemming from overburdened landfills. So, if you won’t reuse it, recycling the glass is better than throwing it away.
Recycled Glass Trends in Home Design
Recycled glass, like cork, is a time-tested material that builders and designers continue to reinvent.
Here are a few ways recycled glass is used in new homes and home projects:
Recycled Glass Tiles
“Recycled glass is easily incorporated into shower walls and kitchen backsplashes, either as a featured accent or the main event,” says interior designer Claudia Martin(link is external).
She says recycled glass tiles can also be installed to create a feature wall or add architectural interest to spaces. Outside, recycled glass tiles can make a pool pop, create dry “river” scenes through landscaping, or line a footpath with color.
Recycled Glass Mosaics
You’ve probably seen colorful recycled glass used to create mosaic-like art on tabletops, vases, or light fixtures.
Martin says designers love creating custom mosaic designs for their clients. She suggests using recycled glass mosaics to frame a mirror or piece of art.
Recycled Glass Countertops
Recycled glass countertops are unique, easy to care for and environmentally friendly, says Martin.
Crushed glass countertops have the aesthetic advantage of a natural material (rather than a laminate pattern-topped countertop). They are also more affordable(link is external) than granite, quartz or marble slabs, making them a viable option for a budget-conscientious homeowner.
Recycled Glass in Concrete Construction
“While glass has been used in construction for centuries, the utilization of waste glass in concrete as an aggregate … is a more recent application,” says Duddu.
Using crushed glass to make concrete mix is still evolving as a potentially cutting-edge sustainable material. Duddu and others have studied the material in laboratory settings. He says it could be a way to limit glass waste, save energy, and reduce the environmental impact of mining and carbon emissions from transporting other natural building materials. However, the research done by Duddu along with his collaborators has shown that including glass particles in concrete mixes can affect strength and durability.
Bottom line: As interest in sustainability rises, real estate professionals and builders can expect to learn about new building materials and processes.
Finding Recycled Glass Resources and Retailers
If you or a client want to use recycled glass in an upcoming home project, both Martin and Duddu suggest looking online for products and companies. Your options for recycled glass production continue to expand.
“If you are looking for recycled glass in a tile application such as a bathroom or kitchen backsplash, Ocean Mosaics(link is external) has a lot of options,” says Martin. “If you are looking for glass countertops, IceStone(link is external) is a great resource.” She adds that Etsy is a great website to find recycled glass décor and original art pieces.
“One new start-up that I have interacted with is Vitroform3D(link is external), where they use 3D printing technologies to turn glass waste into engineered stone products as a replacement for tiles or granite countertops,” says Duddu, adding that the company has even received funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.