Glass is everywhere, from your window to your kitchen, car windshield, phone, mirror, home decor, and many more. Naturally, one question must come to your mind what happens to these glass-made objects once we dispose of them? Can glass decompose in landfill naturally? If so, then how long does glass take to decompose? In this article, I’ll primarily address this question. Additionally, we’ll talk about whether glass is toxic in nature and why everyone prefers glass-made objects over anything else! Let’s start with the primary question first.
How long does glass take to decompose?
Generally, glass is very non-reactive and made of Silicon-compound, limestone, and other compounds that are highly stable and biologically inert in nature. And glass may take several thousands of years to decompose because of its non-biodegradability and chemical and mechanical properties. In better words, it degrades into tiny sand particles for several thousands of years in nature.
Keep reading on to dive into this topic in detail. Next, we’ll try to understand why glass decomposition takes such a long time in nature.
Why does glass take so long to decompose?
Silicon dioxide is the most prevalent compound that we use to make glass. Here Silicon dioxide is a very stable compound consisting of strong Silicon and Oxygen covalent bonds, which makes it durable enough in terms of getting reacted.
You can measure chemical durability by the effects of atmospheric moisture and reactivity to any aqueous solutions. Although you have no way to measure by any particular factor, you can compare it with other materials by the nature of reactions. And typically, glass is super resistant to such reactions, which is one primary reason why glass can stay in nature for thousands of years without degradation.
Not just with an aqueous solution or atmospheric moisture, glass is non-reactive to most of the chemical compounds we see around us. This is also a reason why we use glass jars or containers for years after years just by cleaning them again and again. Most interestingly, we always store long-term foods inside glass jars, if you have noticed, and one of the most common examples of that is Honey.
Mechanically, sand is heated at above 3000°F to melt, and then we give it different shapes. A high melting point is another reason why glass takes so long to degrade in nature.
Glass is non-biodegradable in nature, which means microorganisms can not break it down further to make it into a simpler form. It is essential to know that glass is already made of some simple inorganic chemical compounds of Silicon and limestone.
Variables to decompose glass naturally
- Generally, glass is a very stable compound consisting stable atomic structure. At average temperatures, glass doesn’t even react with acids, which is why you might notice that we use glass containers to store various chemical compounds in the chemistry lab, including strong acids. That is why we can’t even consider soil’s chemical composition as a factor in decomposing glass naturally. But in the long term, soil’s composition can be a factor, but by that time, anything can degrade in nature.
- Usually, a high temperature means a higher decomposition or degradation rate in nature. But as we know, even at high temperatures, glass can keep hold of its stability. We need to heat it above 1700 degrees C to melt it. Again, it does make sense why glass can stay in nature without getting degraded for thousands of years.
- Mechanical stress can be a significant factor in degrading glass faster into smaller sand particles. But it won’t change its chemical structure in any way.
Is glass toxic to the environment?
It is essential to know if the glass is toxic to the environment or not cause some materials can degrade fast but still damage the environment within a short time. On another side, we know many plastics that can stay in the environment for hundreds of years without decomposing and also can seriously harm the nearby ecosystem.
- Glass is made of nontoxic compounds: Glass is made of sand particles, basically minerals that we find naturally. So when we throw away glass in nature, it doesn’t harm the environment. However, broken glass can cause safety issues for humans and other animals. That is why we always recommend properly disposing glass-made materials and sending them to the recycling center without dumping them in unwanted places.
- The glass-making process is energy extensive: Although glass is not toxic to the environment itself, its manufacturing process can be really energy extensive, and also manufacturing units release toxic gases and chemicals to the environment. The melting process is the most energy-consuming as we need to heat the raw materials inside a furnace above 1700 degrees C. So we can claim glass as eco-friendly only when the manufacturing process becomes more sustainable. To accomplish that, using renewable energy sources can be a great initiative.
- Sand mining: In the glass manufacturing process, we need a bulk amount of raw materials, primarily found in sand. But it can not be just any type of sand. It has to be Silica enriched Sand which is not easily available. While extracting these raw materials in bulk, we are exposing the nearby ecosystem to a significant threat. Not only does it damage the soil, but also it affects the biodiversity of that particular region.
In conclusion, once the glass is made, it is not toxic, but its manufacturing process can harm the environment to a great extent.
How does glass decompose or degrade?
We already know that glass takes Thousands of years to degrade into smaller sand particles. And that mostly happens mechanically cause we know how glass is biologically inert and chemically stable in nature.
End material after decomposition or degradation of glass
If you remember, I mentioned we need to extract enriched silica sand to get its raw material. And then, all the required refined raw materials get melted at a very high temperature. Next, we shape that melted glass form into desired shapes and cool it down to get the actual state.
So when glass degrades in nature, we naturally obtain all of the raw materials that we used to make the glass. Those raw materials are Silica, limestone compounds, soda ash, etc.
Why should we recycle glass for good?
Instead of throwing glass waste away with other regular waste, we should consider glass for recycling. Although recycling glass can be an energy-extensive process, recycling is always better than making glass from scratch. The best thing is we can recycle glass unlimited times. And it definitely saves those raw minerals and combats sand extracting extensively.
Reuse glass materials
Unless the glass is broken, you can safely reuse glass-made materials for your lifetime just by cleaning them again and again. Sometimes, you can even think of repurposing them as well. Especially we can reuse glass jars in multiple ways. You can check our other blog here, where we showed how to reuse glass jars.
No doubt, glass is not biodegradable and does not decompose in nature even after thousands of years. But with time, it can degrade into its raw materials. Now, if we start reusing our glass-made objects at home, we do not even need to consider these questions. Reusing will not only save resources, but also it will save our money and environment.