10 Known Environmental Impacts of Glass

The production of glass undergoes rigorous processes, and these processes are seen not only to produce the finished product of production but also to impact the system in which the production is done. In this article, we are going to take a quick look at some of the environmental impacts of glass.

Glass is made from a mixture of three abundant and natural ingredients which include: sand, limestone, and soda ash. These materials are heated to molten, which requires temperatures of between 1400-1600 °C (about 2550-2900 °F).  The molten mixture is then cut and shaped through a couple of different processes. Hence a glass is made.

In the breaking down of glasses, they remain safe and stable and release no harmful chemicals into the environment, even when they aren’t recycled. They do minimal harm to the environment.

However, nitrogen oxides (NOx), due to the high melting temperatures and, in some cases, the decomposition of nitrogen compounds in the batch materials, also contribute to acidification and the formation of smog. Evaporation from the molten glass and raw materials can cause the release of particles into the atmosphere.

This article is a study on the environmental impacts of glass.

Environmental Impacts of Glass

10 Known Environmental Impacts of Glass

Listed and extensively discussed below are the known environmental impacts of glass.

  • Buildup of Smog
  • Food Preservation
  • Land Deterioration
  • Loss of Biodiversity
  • Health Problems
  • Shortage of Natural Resources
  • Air Pollution
  • Global Warming
  • Energy Consumption
  • Land Degradation

1. Build-up of Smog

This environmental impact of glass is caused by atmospheric emissions from melting activities during production.  Some 75% of the CO2 emissions from the furnaces are energy-related, with the remaining 25% caused by decomposition of raw materials.

The combustion of natural gas and the decomposition of raw materials during the melting leads to the emission of

This environmental impact of glass is caused by atmospheric emissions from melting activities during production.  Some 75% of the CO2 emissions from the furnaces are energy-related, with the remaining 25% caused by decomposition of raw materials.

. This is the only greenhouse gas emitted during glass production. These gases emitted are major contributors to smog.

2. Food Preservation

The widespread use of glass as a storage vessel throughout history highlights the material’s resilience and functionality.

Glass is a useful material for everything from preserving food to carrying the signals that power the internet. So essential is glass to human development that the United Nations named 2022 the International Year of Glass to celebrate its contribution to cultural and scientific development.

3. Land Deterioration

The quality of the land can be affected in the process of mining the raw materials, such as silica and soda ash, required for the production of glass.

This can be seen in the contamination of the soil, land use disruption, reduction of soil quality, and even in the contamination of groundwater.

4. Loss of Biodiversity

Most glass bottles that we come across today are made from sand, ash, limestone, and a few additives to bond it all together as stated above. All these materials can be mined.

The mining of these materials can cause significant pressure on the vegetation and, to a large extent, promote vegetation loss. Not only the loss of vegetation but also the loss of biodiversity, both flora and fauna. This can be possible in the process of clearing the mining sites. Species’ habitats are disrupted, leading to the loss of these species.

5. Health Problems

Long-term inhalation of silica dust can cause acute silicosis, an irreversible lung disease, which is why some studies have indicated that prolonged exposure to silica dust may be harmful to the public’s health.

Silicosis may first appear as a persistent cough or shortness of breath and may result in respiratory failure.

6. Shortage of Natural Resources

Extracting sand for glass production may also have contributed to the current global sand shortage.

Sand is the second most-used resource in the world after water people use some 50 billion tonnes of “aggregate”, the industry term for sand and gravel, each year.

7. Air Pollution

Air pollution is also bound to occur in the process of glassmaking. Sulfur oxides are released during the melting process, and nitrogen oxides are generated if the glass is heated by burning gas. So although we tend to think of glass as a ‘clean’ product, it has its drawbacks.

8. Global Warming

The glass production process requires higher temperatures to melt and form. Hence, raw materials for making virgin glass release greenhouse gases during the melting process, adding to its environmental footprint. According to the International Energy Agency, the container and flat-glass industries emit over 60 megatonnes of CO2 per year.

The raw materials for glass are melted together in a furnace at 1500°C (2732°F). The molten glass is then removed from the furnace, shaped, and molded. Glass production facilities often add a portion of recycled glass cullets to the raw material mix.

9. Energy Consumption

The remelting process of glass accounts for 75% of the energy consumption. Glass manufacturing accounted for 1% of total industrial energy use in EIA’s most recent survey of the manufacturing sector. Overall fuel use is dominated by natural gas (73%) and electricity (24%), with the remaining share (3%) from several other fuels.

Natural gas use at glass manufacturing facilities in 2010 was 146 trillion Btu or about 143 billion cubic feet. The bulk of energy consumed in the glass manufacturing industry comes from natural gas combustion used to heat furnaces to melt raw materials to form glass.

These furnaces are mainly natural gas-fired, but there are a small number of electrically-powered furnaces. Many glass furnaces also use electric boosting (supplementary electric heating systems) to increase throughput and quality.

After the melting and refining process is complete, the glass is formed and finished to create the final product. Specific manufacturing processes depend on the intended product and can include annealing (slow cooling), tempering, coating, and polishing, which require additional energy.

The second source of energy is electricity, which accounts for around 25% of the energy consumption. It is used to heat the furnace as a complement to natural gas by way of electric boosters. It is also used further down the manufacturing line to control the atmosphere in the float bath, to manage temperatures throughout the annealing process, and to operate machines.

10. Land Degradation

In 2013, glass manufacturing accounted for about 42% of the global demand for sand.  Remember, sand is a major raw material needed for concrete that is used for roads, urbanization, and other construction.  Sand is also used in silicon chips in smart devices and computers.

Glass is also used for concrete (so is sand), fiberglass, glass wool, lightbulbs (I know you know this, but it’s one I don’t regularly remember), ceramics, and as an ingredient in the reflective paint on roadways.


I do hope this article has given you insight into the effect glass has on the environment. Therefore, we are expected to reduce the quantity of glass found in the environment. To this effect, it is vital that if you can reuse the bottle, you can still recycle. This will, to a large extent, keep our environment in check


Environmental Consultant at Environment Go! | + posts

Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.

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