Most environmentally conscious people try to recycle and repurpose as much as possible. When it comes to larger and less common items such as appliances, tires, building materials or automotive parts, it might not be immediately clear whether something can be recycled, or where.
Up until the last few years, recycling your broken windshield was impossible or not feasible. Some windshields were repurposed by grinding it and using it as a filler in certain aggregates and construction applications. But for the most part the windshields will end up in the landfills.
Today advancements in recycling have been made reusing windshield glass a reality although not common. These programs are not widely known or accessible, but with the right resources you can recycle windshield glass.
How Windshields Impact the Environment
Every item that is manufactured, consumed, and discarded has an environmental impact, and that includes windshields. A lot of energy, resources, and fuel are used to manufacture replacement windshields. Responsible windshield manufacturers are using a mix of recycled and newly sourced materials to make their windshields to reduce this impact. However, recycled windshield glass cannot be used to create new ones.
What Makes Auto Glass Recycling Different?
The glass used to make up your windshield is much different than the glass of containers and beverages that you encounter every day. Those types of glass are easily recyclable with little if any waste, and it is very cheap to process. Windshield glass, on the other hand, is made up of both recyclable and non recyclable materials, making it more difficult to recycle.
Your windshield glass is made up of two laminated layers of glass fused together with a layer of a plastic polymer called Poly Vinyl Butyral, or PVB, between. This is done to reduce the occurrence of cracks and breaks upon impact, particularly from pedestrians or head-on collisions. The polymer layer and other features of windshields must be removed during recycling.
You also can’t recycle your windshield the same way that you might other types of glass. Here in New Mexico, neighborhoods have curbside recycling programs. While these do allow for glass recycling, they do not allow for windshields. Y
Challenges in Recycling Windshields
The main challenge in recycling windshields is their makeup. In order to render the glass usable in another application, it has to be crushed and the non-glass components, like the interior Poly Vinyl Butyral layer, must be removed. It has only been in the last several years that cost-effective techniques for handling this separation have been developed in certain areas of the country.
The technology used to recycle windshields is still relatively new, and recycling centers and companies are woefully unprepared to deal with this new challenge. There are only a few companies recycling windshields at this time, and most of them are windshield manufacturers.
How Windshield Glass is Recycled and Reused
Auto glass is recycled in much the same way as other types of glass, with a few exceptions. Glass is recycled by crushing it and removing inclusions, which are non-glass materials. These materials in auto glass, particularly windshields, include:
- Polymer layer from lamination
- Heating elements for defrosting (usually on back windshields)
- Film from window tinting
- Protective glazing
In times past, if glass had too many inclusions other than paper labels, the glass would be discarded and sent to a landfill. This is still true of most glass recycling, because recycling plants are not equipped with the necessary technology to remove inclusions. This is also why few recycling centers take windshields.
Recycled auto glass is used in a number of ways. Most windshields are made with about 25% cullet, which may or may not come from recycled auto glass. Recycled glass can also be used in the following applications:
- Industrial materials
- Building and construction materials
- Road repair (when mixed with asphalt or aggregate)