The green green glass of home

Mike Butterick
Mike Butterick

By Mike Butterick, Saint-Gobain Glass

Homeowners are increasingly choosing the greener, more sustainable options when it comes to their homes in a drive to save money on their heating bills, as well as to save the planet. 

For example, in the first six months of 2022, Britain saw an 80% increase in new solar PV installations over the same period a year ago and in 2022, heat pump sales increased by 40%, equating to over 17,000 more heat pumps installed compared to 2021.

Forward-thinking homeowners are adopting these new technologies and preparing for the decarbonisation of the electricity grid and the electrification of heating. However, many are unaware of the importance of upgrading their doors and windows, to include high-performance low U-value glass, which will contribute to the effectiveness of air-source heat pumps, solar PV panels and other control technologies.

There is an opportunity for the fenestration industry to educate homeowners and encourage them to replace poorly-performing (certainly pre-2002 and pre-Part L) windows, alongside these new technologies to ensure the fabric of the building is airtight.

As an added bonus, fabricators and installers could offer homeowners even greener windows and enhance their green credentials by offering a post-consumer glass recycling service, as well as the option for homeowners to choose windows manufactured using previously-used glass for window replacement projects.

Despite the fact that glass is a highly recyclable material, end-of-life building glass or post-consumer glass isn’t recycled into new glass products as much as it could be. According to the UK GBC, in the UK alone, almost 200,000 tonnes of glass is currently sent to landfill each year.

In the EU, the proper recycling of all building glass waste could avoid 925,000 tonnes of landfilled waste every year and save around 1.23 million tonnes of primary raw materials annually.

Here at Saint-Gobain Glass, we have just reached a milestone of preventing one million tonnes of raw-materials from being consumed in the flat glass manufacturing process. We have been recycling post-industrial glass from our own and our customers’ manufacturing sites since 2002 and, in recent years, more of our customers including Morley Glass & Glazing have been operating post-consumer glass recycling schemes, helping the industry to offer even more new windows and doors incorporating recycled glass.

We’ve also created a range of mobile glass crushing machines, one of which is located inside a recycled shipping container, for easy transportation to large commercial sites across the UK, where glass can be recovered and re-manufactured into new high-performance glazing.

Ethically and commercially this is the right thing to do. Re-manufacturing glass from glass processing plants, and residential and commercial refurbishment projects reduces the amount of virgin raw materials extracted from the earth.

Our flat glass uses around 40% of cullet in the manufacturing process, making it one of the most sustainable products on the market. High-performance glass manufactured in this way also requires less energy in the furnace which reduces CO2 emissions.

Maximise potential of glass

We have reached a turning point where the fenestration industry can maximise and commercialise the demand for greener products, and support the Government’s strategy to decarbonise all sectors of the UK economy and meet their net zero target by 2050.

In the same way that consumers will pay for better quality window hardware or different coloured foils, choosing more sustainable, high-performance glass in their windows should become an option, when choosing new windows and doors, particularly if they understand the impact it will have on the effectiveness of their heat pumps and solar PVs.

However, the conversation needs to change so that the emphasis is not only geared around making homes more energy efficient. There’s a broader conversation to have about the sustainability of glass i.e. choosing windows manufactured using a high percentage of cullet, and also recognising all the benefits of glass including solar control, noise reduction, preventing furniture fade, safety, security, as well as energy efficiency.

Our high-performance glass is sustainable throughout its life cycle – from being manufactured using up to 40% of cullet, to creating energy efficient, comfortable homes during its life span, and eventually being recycled at the end of its life and re-used in the manufacture of new glazing.

It’s important to recognise and value all these benefits of glass, communicate them well to homeowners, and price and promote them as high-value, premium products, that deliver real value to the homeowner and to the planet.

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