Have you ever wondered what happens to windshield glass after it’s been damaged? We do commonly call it windshield glass, but it isn’t exactly the same as a glass soda bottle; instead, windshield glass needs to be recycled in a completely different way.
One of the biggest reasons why it’s important to know about windshield glass recycling is because there’s an awful lot of it that gets recycled, especially as a result of collisions or from damage due to stray rocks or rapid temperature changes.
Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reveal that in 2020 over 5.2 million vehicle crashes were recorded in the United States. While some of these crashes may have been minor (fender benders), many of them likely involved cracked or shattered windshields or vehicle glass.
What are windshields made of?
Windshield glass in the 21st century is mostly standardized in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Almost all windshield glass today is made of safety glass. This glass is not the same as the glass used for soda bottles or decorative vases in your home, nor is it the same as glassware used for drinking water, for example.
Safety glass used for vehicles in the United States must comply with American National Standard ANSI Z26.1, which describes the material composition of safety glass. The only possible exception, depending on state regulations, might be for antique cars using original non-safety glass. In all other circumstances (i.e. the vast majority of cases), safety glass must be used for the windshield and for the windows on your vehicle.
Technically, safety glass comes in two main varieties: tempered glass and laminated glass.
Most vehicle windows such as side and quarter glass panels are made of toughened glass called tempered glass. This type of safety glass is made of glass heated to 600°-700°C (that’s about 1,100°-1,300° Fahrenheit), which produces a finished product that is about 4-5 times stronger than everyday glass you might find in your home.
Moreover and more importantly, this type of glass has the added safety characteristic of shattering into small fragments rather than razor-sharp segments which can be lethal.
Most windshields and rear windshields are made of laminated glass, which is a ‘sandwich’ consisting of two pieces of safety glass and an inner layer of Polyvinyl butyral (PVB) between both sheets.
The transparent sheet of PVB acts as a sort of ‘glue’ which keeps the sheets of glass held together, but it also retains any cracks or fragments of glass in the event of a collision so that they shatter into tiny fragments rather than larger, sharper pieces.
This type of glass is technically a combination of natural glass and synthetic materials, which can make it far more challenging to recycle than ordinary glass.
Is windshield glass recyclable?
The short answer is yes, windshield glass is recyclable. The longer answer is that it’s a lot more challenging to recycle safety glass, especially laminated glass used in windshields.
Since laminated glass consists of an inner layer of PVB, shattered windshield glass must be processed in a facility equipped with a windshield stripper. This piece of machinery crushes and pulverizes the glass into tiny chunks called glass cullet and then strips away the laminated glass pieces from the PVB layer.
Tempered glass, on the other hand, is recyclable but not with other ordinary glass waste. Since tempered glass was tempered under extreme heat, its melting point is higher and therefore tends to be recycled independently from other glass waste.
What happens to windshield glass waste?
Depending on whether the glass is laminated or tempered, the manner in which it is recycled will differ. The good news is that both types of glass can be recycled and reused in a wide array of products, but the bad news is that recycled safety glass is far less versatile than other types of glass.
The constituent materials in laminated glass can both be recycled into different materials. PVB can be reused in adhesive compounds; the laminated glass cullet can be transformed into fiberglass or shredded into small filaments to be used in concrete admixtures.
Tempered glass must be melted at a higher melting point (usually over 1,200°-1,600°C) than other glass waste in order for it to be recycled. The melted glass can then be transformed into products such as fiberglass or glassphalt.
Reducing waste and improving the environment
There’s a lot of safety glass that needs to be disposed of every day and every year in the United States, but the challenges of recycling these types of glass pose serious environmental concerns. While it is well and good that the materials used in safety glass can be recycled, it may be better for the environment to reduce wasted glass in the first place (the first R, reduce!).
Not only is it often far more affordable and convenient to have your windshield repaired than it is to have it replaced, but it also reduces the amount of safety glass waste overall. Qualified auto glass technicians found here on myWindshield can often provide windshield repair services for great prices, so long as it is safe to do so.
This goes for a lot of car components, too, and many other sectors and industries in the US are actively being incentivized to reduce needless waste. Junk removal companies, for example, are always looking for ways to reduce landfill waste since they need to pay by the ton, which eats into their profit margins. Instead, they’ll often donate items to charities or send junk to recycling facilities in order to trim their operating costs.
Many of the junk haulers listed on JunkGator engage in eco-friendly junk removal practices and are often helpful for removing unwanted junk and waste such as windshield glass.
Why reducing glass waste is better than recycling
Reycling safety glass is resource-intensive, but it’s still a lot better than tossing it all into a landfill. Better yet, consider reducing glass waste altogether by having your windshield repaired if it’s safe to do so. Hairline cracks and small stone chips can almost always be safely repaired using high-quality bonding agents. Qualified auto glaziers often prefer this method too, since they’ve got the skills and products to ensure that your windshield is restored to its full appearance and integrity afterwards, no scuffs or scratches left behind.
For drivers, windshield repairs cost a fraction of having the windshield replaced altogether, so it’s really a win-win both for your wallet and for the environment. In brief, you should only replace your windshield glass if it’s completely shattered or if the automotive glass technician deems that it’s unsafe to repair.
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