Why I avoid single-use glass

Apr 15, 2024

Don’t freak out… but I often choose plastic over glass.

I love glass. And I hate it. 

In Singapore, post-consumer waste glass is almost never recycled — there is just no market for it. Unfortunately, this is also true in many other countries. Google it: there is a chance your own municipality no longer accepts glass in their recycling system or just stockpiles it.

Transporting waste glass out of Singapore to a glass recycling facility is expensive because it is heavy. As a commodity, post-consumer waste glass has “negative market value” i.e. you have to pay someone to take it away.

This means that when I throw a glass bottle or jar into a recycling bin, there's a high chance it will end up at an incineration plant instead of a recycling facility. Which also means that this glass, which is unburnable, will end up in the bottom ash that is sent to Semakau, Singapore’s landfill.

Not all waste glass in Singapore meets this fate… but consumer options for genuine recycling are scarce.

Food and Beverage businesses have another option: they can pay a company to have their glass taken away (remember: negative value) and because the quality of this waste glass tends to be uniform (mostly wine and beer bottles), it's more likely to be recycled.

For most households, waste glass is thrown into the famous “Blue Bin” - the starting point of the national recycling system. Blue bin contents eventually end up at a sorting facility (a Material Recovery Facility) which, due to safety concerns,  will often not handle glass if it is broken… and it is virtually guaranteed to be broken. Put a bottle into a Blue Bin, dump that bin into a truck, then dump it onto the floor of an MRF and - congratulations - that bottle is now broken.

Then there is the carbon cost of glass itself. Producing glass is energy-intensive, requiring temperatures up to 1500°C. Likewise it requires a lot of energy to transport (it is heavy). And, unlike plastic, there is no energy recovery when incinerated.


And yet, I love glass. 

  • It is reusable
  • It is not porous so does not absorb smells
  • It is naturally resistant to acid
  • It is strong and can withstand high amounts of pressure
  • It does not leach chemicals or microplastics

This combination of properties makes glass an ideal, sometimes irreplaceable, container for certain foods and beverages.

And to be honest, glass is just lovely: this clear hard material that catches the light feels magical. It has been a part of human civilization for over 5000 years. It’s wholesome.


One of the major benefits of glass is that it isn't plastic… and so doesn’t contribute to food chain contamination if it ends up in a landfill or the ocean. 

However I live in a place that has virtually no leakage of waste into the environment so the likelihood of a plastic alternative becoming marine litter is nearly nonexistent.. 

Meaning when I go shopping, I choose to prioritize reducing climate change over reducing marine pollution because Singapore does not contribute to marine pollution issues.

Two jars of peanut butter on a counter. One made of plastic, the other glass.

How this affects my shopping

  • When a food sold in glass has an alternative in metal or plastic, I avoid the glass. Eg ketchup, vitamins, peanut butter... Thanks Justin’s. Sorry Pic’s. Yes I have read this choice will kill me. I’ll take my chances. 
  • I buy my herbs in bulk or in plastic packaging: never in glass. Those little glass bottles really pile up. When you buy such herbs, you are mostly paying for the transport cost of glass.
  • I buy olive oil in 3L cans and refill the old dark green glass bottles I have on hand (I later clean the cans thoroughly so they can be recycled)
  • I buy white vinegar for cleaning in 3L HDPE jugs
  • Where my culinary skills are up to it, I just make stuff from scratch and use old jars I’ve amassed (eg mayo, salad dressing, pickles).
  • I never, ever, ever go to a bulk food store without my own containers.  (gives Scoop the side-eye and plans a rant for another day)
  • And yes I continue to buy certain foods in glass: alcohol, dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, … Some stuff absolutely requires glass.

What about health? If you are concerned with the potential health issues associated with plastic, I won’t argue with you. That’s a personal choice based on unsettled science. I’m not going down that rabbit hole here.

Why not reuse the glass? You can… up to a point. There are only so many jars and bottles you can reuse. Even with my reduced glass consumption, I maxed out on reuse ideas long ago … and I still have enough glass jars to be bordering on hoarding. 

I even bought a glass cutter and tried making cups out of old wine bottles. Trust me when I say: you don’t want to do this. At some point, you need to own your waste.

But you can give them away online! Another unscalable solution. Can the entire country do this? Hey I have tried. There are just way more people giving away their glass than those who want it.

OK here are the (not so secret) hacks to get your glass recycled…

If you have made it this far, here are a couple of things you really can do to get your household glass recycled in Singapore. It takes some effort so it is not going to be a choice made by most households. But it is doable.

  1. Bring your glass to the next Tzu Chi Environmental Sustainability Day event. They have an arrangement with P&R Resources which is the same company recycling glass from F&B businesses. The glass will get shipped to Malaysia for recycling
  2. Bring your glass to the studio at The Yards, Joo Chiat. They have a pilot project going on which will hopefully become a fully functioning true glass recycling pipeline. You can read about their project here.

Remember: your consumption choices have the biggest impact on your waste footprint. Those choices need to be made based on the local waste management and recycling options.

There are definitely places in the world with a functioning post-consumer glass recycling system making glass the better choice. But you might be surprised how many places do not recycle glass. Many cities in the US, the UK and in Australia have stopped collecting glass. The economics simply don’t stand up.

If you live in a place where glass is recycled, I envy you. Carry on buying glass. But for the rest of us, we need to think about our options.

For now, I am choosing to reduce the carbon footprint of my food purchases by avoiding glass whenever possible.

Note: This post is about glass used as containers for food and beverages which is mostly soda-lime and recyclable. This is not about glass used for household items or windows.

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