Where Do All My Recycled Beer Bottles Go?

If you’ve just been throwing them in the trash all this time, with no regard for Mother Earth, then maybe you haven’t pondered this important question. No, your empty bottles don’t just disappear into “recycling heaven”–although that would be pretty cool–they head to a facility to begin the recycling process.

What’s the point of recycling bottles?

Well, if you don’t care about limiting energy use, conserving raw materials, and reducing mountains of trash (you know, the whole sustaining the planet thingy), then there’s not much point in recycling bottles. If, however, you’re hoping to leave future generations with a somewhat healthy and useful environment, then recycling beer bottles is probably a good idea.

Of course, glass doesn’t just appear out of thin air: It takes energy as well as materials like sand, limestone, and soda ash to make. Amazing, right? According to the Glass Packaging Institute, making glass out of recycled glass requires significantly less energy than making it new. This is because less fossil fuel is used, which in turn means less harmful pollution.

In addition, hundreds of pounds of raw materials are spared by using recycled glass. The raw materials that are used to make glass from scratch, like limestone for example, doesn’t grow on trees. It requires a lot of time, effort, and money to extract.

Then, there’s also the fact that glass bottles have a bad habit of not rotting away and enriching the earth like an apple core or banana peel. By not recycling bottles and just throwing them in the trash, you’re just contributing to the massive and growing garbage dumps that are encroaching on civilization.

Unfortunately, the ocean doesn’t have a way to make them magically disintegrate either. Not only do fish have feelings too, but humanity kind of relies on these oceans, in case you didn’t notice.

What happens to my empty case of beer?

Okay, so maybe you’re already down with the whole recycling thing, and just need to know where all those empty bottles go to be recycled? Regardless of whether you take your bottles to a local recycling depot, have them picked up by city workers, or leave them outside for your local homeless population to swoop up, typically they wind up at a recycling plant.

Once they arrive at the plant, the bottles are sorted by color and then smashed into pieces. It may sound tragic, yes, but sometimes you have to crack a few eggs to make a delicious and fresh omelette…This batch of smashed glass is called cullet, and after it has any foreign objects like bottle caps, disgusting soggy cigarette butts, or beer labels removed, it’s melted.

Next, the melted glass may be oxidized and treated to remove any color, before dye is applied to the batch for new coloring. This new batch of cullet, which was harvested with less energy and no new raw materials, can then be used to make brand-new beer bottles from which you will enjoy more delicious brew.

Another perk to this recycling process is that the quality of the glass is preserved. In other words, a beer bottle that is made out of recycled glass isn’t more likely to break the next time you knock one over while you reach for the chip bowl.

Don’t I need to clean them first?

One of the more common excuses people have to not recycle their bottles is the argument that they “don’t have time” to do so, because of the “exhausting” work involved. If you point out that all you have to do is put the bottles out with the trash, or return them to a local store that will receive them, then comes the “but don’t I need to clean them first?” The answer is no.

Of course, in order to lessen the workload of the recycling facility, if the beer bottles you had out at the lake are covered in mud or filled with sand, then the civilized thing to do would be to rinse them out first. In addition, don’t tap the beer caps back onto the empty bottles. Those aren’t getting recycled with the glass. You don’t have to worry about the beer labels, if they’re still on, as the smashing and melting process will take care of those nicely.

But what if you love putting limes in your beer? Do you have to break out a chopstick or some sort of sewing pin to take out every last piece of fruit? Again, the answer is no. While soaked limes might slow things down a little bit at the local recycling facility, you’ll be doing the world a much better turn by returning your bottles anyway.

Plus, depending on which state you live in and the type of bottles you’re recycling, you could make between five and ten cents per bottle. You might not get rich by doing this, but it’s not a bad way to help out the beer fund!