Is Glass Packaging Actually Sustainable?

NH Staff
Published in
6 min readNov 27, 2019

We all know that plastic is pretty bad for the environment (we’re being kind — it’s awful unless it’s recycled), but what about glass?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably been told that glass is good for the environment. Maybe you have friends who are, like, literally mason jar-obsessed. But what’s the true story here? Is glass really all that? Does it get a pass simply because it’s (apparently) better than plastic?

I decided to find out…

Why we are writing this article, or the potential glass problem

Since glass is made entirely from natural materials and is therefore 100% recyclable, it might make no sense for us to be even having the glass vs. environment debate. But there are issues.

When glass is made, sand is required. And while you might argue that there’s clearly plenty of sand available, we’re actually using more sand than you can shake a stick at right now. In fact, the world is actually running out of sand. More glaringly, we use more of it than we do of oil.

Worse still, anytime you take sand out of its natural habitat, you break a chain in the ecosystem. Even worse than that, when sand is removed, local communities are more susceptible to erosion and flooding.

We also have to consider that other raw materials are used in the production of glass, including limestone and soda ash, and that the production process itself is very taxing on the environment. Each time some new glass is made, energy is required and more emissions are released into the atmosphere. The furnaces that help in the process, moreover, require fossil fuels to run. This means more emissions and more pollution.

The problems with glass aren’t just limited to the production process, though: glass is not only heavier than plastic but it’s also easier to break when it’s being transported.

Then there’s the fact that, whilst glass can be recycled, most humans don’t actually recycle it. This is a major bummer because glass can be used to make new glass, which means fewer raw materials will be needed. Of course, this isn’t really a glass problem but a human problem. But still.