While the first course of action is to repair windshields rather than replace them, there are millions that must be replaced annually. Millions of windshields are replaced each year in the United States. Leading windshield replacement companies are now embracing recycling of old auto glass, including windshields.
The problem with recycling windshields
Recycling of windshields is more complicated than the recycling of glass bottles because of their design. The windshield is formed from two layers of glass sandwiching a plastic film of PVB (polyvinyl butyral). The reason for this design is twofold. It not only reduces the risk to people from flying glass in the event of an impact but also helps keep people inside the vehicle in the event of a collision. As a result, windshield recycling falls within the realm of both glass recycling, as well as plastic recycling.
Recycling and End Products
Windshield replacement companies typically work with recycling companies which can recycle windshields. Broken windshields are accumulated at replacement locations, typically in open-top bins, and then sent back to a recycling partner to facilitate the processing.
One product designed to separate windshield glass from the plastic membrane is the Andela Windshield Stripper, which reduces glass to less than one-quarter inch cullet, and the plastic to one inch or larger pieces.
The recycling process involves pulverizing the windshields, and then a further step that involves separating the plastic film from the cullet or crushed glass. While the glass is not used in new windshield manufacturing, various windshield recycling programs indicate that the glass material is used for fiberglass insulation, as a component of concrete blocks, as well as for bottles. The plastic material is used for applications such as carpet glue and others.
Windshield Replacement Companies Now Offering Recycling Programs
A number of windshield replacement companies have now launched windshield recycling programs. These include JN Phillips Auto Glass, Safelite, and others.
Safelite AutoGlass, the nation’s largest provider of windshield replacements, recycled four million windshields between its launch in 2012 and October 2015.
Safelite reached out to Shark Solutions, the international leader in recycling post-consumer PVB from windshields, to establish their technology to the U.S.
Subsequently, Shark Glass Recycling North America began operations in its first U.S. windshield recycling plant, located to best process Safelite's east coast scrap windshield generation. According to Safelite, the reverse logistics of collecting the old windshields and shipping to the recycling plant were designed to be carbon neutral, using existing freight lanes within the supply chain.
Shark Glass Recycling North America processes glass from Safelite's customers using patented technology that separates the glass from polyvinyl butyral (PVB). Approximately 90 percent becomes "glass cullet," which can then be recycled into a number of new products including fiberglass insulation, while approximately 7 percent becomes PVB scrap, which is recycled into usable materials for a number of new products such as carpet backing, paint and primer, and other products. In fact, Safelite uses rugs made with recycled windshields with the company logo in many of its locations. In 2016, Shark Recycling reports that it processed 6 million windshields.
Massachusetts-based JN Phillips launched its GreenShield windshield recycling program in 2010, making a pledge to recycle 100 percent of damaged windshields. Upon removal, windshields are collected at JN Phillips locations across New England. The material is sent to a central location and bulk-shipped to JN Phillips' recycling partner for processing. Upon final processing, the PVB plastic can be used in various industrial adhesive applications. The processed glass material -- often called "glass cullet" -- is less costly than raw materials and has numerous applications, including fiberglass insulation and even concrete.
Identifying Other Companies That Offer Recycling
According to Glass.com, several auto glass replacement companies now offer windshield recycling programs. The website Glass.com shows a “we recycle” badge for auto glass companies that participate in windshield recycling.