What Happens to Old Windscreens?
Have you ever wondered what happens to your old windscreen when you replace it? Yes, it is made out of glass, so technically it’s recycled with all other glass – right? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Windscreens (along with other auto glass) fall under a special category of glass called ‘safety glass’. This type of glass has been manipulated by heat and other materials to become stronger than usual, enhancing its safety. Undeniably, one of the most unique features of safety glass is the way it breaks – often either in tiny coarse shards or in a state where it is held together. Safety glass isn’t just used in cars, however; safety glass is used in a bunch of different settings, from homes to offices, and other modes of transportation. So, we rely quite heavily on this type of glass, particularly in cars, but how is it disposed of? And is it recycled?
Nowadays, people are more conscious of and interested in the impact they have on the environment and where their waste will end up. Many consumers are eager to follow the journey of their used products to ensure they are sourced sustainably and end up recycled, reused, or disposed of in the most ethical way possible. So, where does your windscreen fit in this process?
“Generally speaking, more complex materials are harder to recycle, thanks to the difficulty involved in separating their different component parts.” – Professor Veena Sahajwalla, Science.org.au.
Recycling auto glass is slightly more complicated than recycling ordinary glass and that’s mainly due to the way it’s manufactured – let’s have a closer look.
The Composition of Windscreen Glass
Ordinary glass is quite fragile and therefore not an ideal material to place in a car travelling at high speeds through a range of weather conditions. Therefore, safety glass is the way to go for cars – after all, we use them to transport a lot of precious cargo. In Australia, every car is equipped with safety glass in accordance with strict safety regulations to ensure the safety of every passenger. According to the Auto Glass Association (AGA), Australia’s representative body for the automotive glass industry, “Auto glass such as windscreens and body glass used in Australia, whether it be original or replacement glass, must comply with the national standard cited as Australian Design Rule (ADR) 8/01- Safety Glazing Material 2005.”
This legislation states that Australian auto glass must be in compliance with the following standards (under section 8 of the legislation)
1. Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 2080:1995 “Safety Glass for Land Vehicles”
2. Japanese Industrial Standard – JIS R 3211-1998 “Safety Glazing Materials for Road Vehicles”
3. American National Standard – ANSI Z26.1-1996 – “Safety Code for Safety Glazing Materials for Glazing Motor Vehicles Operating on Land Highways”
4. United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regulation No. 43 “Uniform provisions concerning the approval of safety glazing materials and their installation on vehicles”
5. Australian Standard AS 2080 -1983 -“Safety Glass for Land Vehicles” up to and including amendment No. 1.
6. Economic Commission for Europe R-43/00 – “Uniform Provisions concerning Approval of Safety Glazing and Glazing Materials” Revision 1 of 25 February 1988.
7. British Standards Institution – BS AU178:1980 “Road Vehicle Safety Glass”
8. Japanese Industrial Standard – JIS R 3211-1992 “Safety Glasses for Road Vehicles”
9. American National Standard – ANSI Z26.1-1980 – “Safety Code for Safety Glazing Materials for Glazing Motor Vehicles Operating on Land Highways”
10. New Zealand Standard NZ 5443-1987.
TIP: Want to check that your glass complied with these standards? Check for a ‘compliance mark’, otherwise known as a logo or glass monogram. Auto safety glass must contain this mark to be considered legally compliant with safety standards.
Typically, auto glass is manufactured in two variations for optimal safety and ultimately these two safety glass types are used within most cars.
- Toughened glass. This is a single layer of glass which has been subjected to special treatment to increase its mechanical strength and to condition its fragmentation after shattering.
- Laminated glass. This glass consists of two or more layers of glass that are held together by one or more interlayers of plastic material. Further, there are two variations of laminated glass. There’s ordinary laminated glass, which has not undergone any special treatment apart from its lamination process, and treated laminated glass which has been treated in some way to further enhance its durability and condition its fragmentation after shattering.
In regards to laminated glass, an interlayer of polyvinyl butyral (PVB) is often added between sheets of glass to hold it together upon impact. Laminated glass greatly reduces the risk of injury from the glass and further acts as a barrier to the elements as it stays in place. On the other hand, toughened glass – otherwise known as tempered glass – has been put under immense heat (around 600° – 700° C) and then rapidly cooled to alter its surface tension. The heightened tension of the tempered glass makes it 4-5 times stronger than ordinary glass and allows it to break into tiny fragments upon shattering. Both of these types of glass are considered Grade A safety glass and are therefore highly suitable for cars. Often laminated glass is used for windscreens and rear windows, and side windows consist of toughened glass. The process of making safety glass ensures the durability of the final product; however, this process also makes auto glass slightly more complicated to recycle.
“it’s specially designed with our safety in mind, rather than ease of end-of-use recycling.” – Science.org.au.
How is Safety Glass Recycled?
Because of the complex conception of automotive glass, the recycling process is much harder than that of, say, a glass bottle. That being said, new technology has allowed recycling organisations to better separate these more complex materials. This makes it easier to sort and reuse materials for a more sustainable future.
To recycle laminated glass, a machine called a windshield stripper is used to break the glass into recyclable pieces. It separates the glass into 2 parts: (1) a clean, homogeneous pulverized glass product; and (2) plastic laminate pieces, typically PVB. The machine crushes the glass before separating it from the PVB layer. This allows the machine to gather the small pieces of glass, called glass cullet, which can then be used to make fibreglass or concrete. Along with the glass shards, the PVB inside laminated glass can also be recycled into various adhesive applications.
Much like laminated glass, toughened or tempered glass cannot be recycled with ordinary glass. This is due to it having a higher melting point. It can, however, be recycled into other materials to enhance their qualities. This glass can be melted and remanufactured into fibreglass as well, or newer materials such as ‘glassphalt’ (a glass and asphalt blend).
We Still Have a Long Way to Go
While recycled safety glass might not be as useful as ordinary recycled glass, it is still worth recycling. According to the Australasian Road Safety Conference, one million windscreens are replaced each year. A majority of those will, unfortunately, end up in landfills. Therefore, it’s important the auto glass industry becomes more environmentally conscious. Although it is possible to recycle windscreens and windows, the process isn’t as routine as recycling ordinary glass.
What Novus is Doing to Help
To minimise the number of windscreens that end up in landfills, Novus always aims to repair windows and windscreens to immaculate condition. A common misconception is that you have to replace a windscreen once it’s been cracked; however, this is not always the case. Some cracks can be repaired, especially with the right expertise and technology. Let Novus salvage your windscreen and save it from the growing landfill next time you’re thinking about a replacement.
What YOU Can do to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Apart from booking in a repair instead of a replacement, there are other more general steps we can all take to minimise landfill and our impact on the environment with our cars.
Tips on Reducing Environmental Impact
- Carpool whenever possible.
- Invest in an electric car or hybrid.
- Choose a car with better fuel economy.
- Make sure your tyres are properly inflated, to improve mileage.
- Avoid speeding (unnecessary acceleration wastes fuel!)
- Park your car in the shade to keep in cool in summer and reduce the need for air conditioning.
- Park your car in a sunny spot to keep it warm in winter.
- Only wash your car when necessary, to save water.
- Use environmentally friendly detergents to clean your car.
- Walk, ride a bike, or catch public transport when you can.
- When using your car, run as many errands as you can in one trip, to save on mileage.
- When waiting for someone in a parked position, crack the windows and turn off your engine (saves wasting petrol).
While it’s important to look after our environment, sometimes – on account of safety – replacing a windscreen is absolutely necessary. If you’re ever unsure of whether you need a repair or replacement, get a Novus specialist to take a look. To get a technician over to look at your car, enquire online or call us today on 13 22 34.