The difference between leaded and non-leaded glass

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between ‘normal’ and leaded glass? Did you even know some glass had lead in it? Luckily less and less glass contains lead, but if it does, it’s generally being recycled by Total Green recycling.

Every month we recover on average:
5-7 Tonnes of non-leaded glass
3-5 Tonnes of leaded glass

The majority of leaded glass we recover comes from old CTR (Cathode Ray Tubes) televisions.

How glass is made

glass making process

It’s crazy to think, but glass is actually made out of sand… If you heat up sand (or silicon dioxide) it turns into a liquid which then gets turned into the glass we use today. While the sandy beaches in Australia get pretty hot, you’d need to heat the sand to 1700 degrees celsius to start the glass making process.

Glass is an easily recyclable material, so most commercial glass plants use a mixture of sand and waste glass collected through recycling programs.

Step 1: Combine waste glass and sand.
Step 2: Add a dash of sodium carbonate, which lowers its melting point, saving massive amounts of energy.
Step 3: Add limestone to stop the glass dissolving in water.
Step 4: Heat it all in a furnace and voila.
Step 5: Don’t do any of this yourself and instead let the professionals make glass.

Not all glass is the same though. There are different materials added to create different glass with different uses. Stained glass is created by adding salts of metals such as iron, chromium and tin. And for some glass lead was added to increase its strength and clarity, or in the case of the CRT, it was added to protect people from radiation exposure when watching TV.

Difference between leaded and non-leaded

Now let’s talk about the difference between your ‘normal’ glass of wine and glass with added lead.

There’s another name for leaded glass… crystal. Well technically its lead crystal. But dropping the ‘lead’ at the start of the word made it more commercially viable. Lead sounds a bit toxic, doesn’t it.

Lead was added to glass to improve its clarity and strength, and to make it longer lasting. In a wine glass, lead crystal is what allowed it to be incredibly thin and not break.

You don’t need to throw out your new crystal wine glasses. Most crystal wine glasses these days don’t contain lead. But maybe only use the antiques for the occasional wine… 

Recovered leaded glass

non-leaded glass recovered by Total Green Recycling

Why do televisions contain lead?

Lead was added to glass used in the old CRT (CATHODE ray tube) televisions to increase the clarity of the picture. It also protected against the radiation caused by these older televisions.
(Modern TVs are safe to use. Most TV’s have not been found to give off any measurable level of radiation)

CRT (CATHODE ray tube) televisions hold a lot of glass. And therefore contain a significant amount of lead. A big heavy CRT television can contain up to 2.2 kilograms of lead.
Old monochrome black and white CRTs used to have lead in the front panel. Colour picture CRT Televisions only have lead in the rear funnel section. The front panel is non leaded glass as the lead in the glass can brown over time due to exposure to X-rays. Hence the move to change the front panel to thicker non leaded glass. TGR separates the panel from the funnel, maximizing recovery.

television break down of lead
The lead in these old TVs is only harmful if ingested, which means it’s only a risk if the TV is broken, or disposed of incorrectly.

While nobody is buying CRT tv’s anymore, they still make up a large portion of e-waste being recycled. Though that number drops more and more each year.

Lead glass health risks

We used to use lead in plenty of things, paint, gasoline, crystal glassware. It seemed to make the product work better, leaded petrol protected the car engine from excessive wear. Lead in paint made it more durable. As we learnt more about the health risks related to lead, we’ve removed it from our products and found safer solutions.

When lead is in a state of stasis within glass, it isn’t toxic. However if a CRT tv is thrown into landfill, and the glass breaks and corrodes that lead is released and can contaminate our ground soil, which IS toxic.

We’re incredibly glad the Western Australian Government has committed to banning e-waste from landfill in 2024 for exactly this reason. One other reason to ban E-waste to landfill is the fact that lead is not only found in CRT glass, it’s also found in batteries and circuit boards. Just because it isn’t banned yet, doesn’t mean you can landfill your e-waste though. Sure you legally can. But environmentally it’s definitely a no no.

How to stay safe when recycling leaded glass

While we’ve talked about the risks lead poses, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be recycling. Actually, recycling, if done correctly, is the only option really. Lead is an essential element that is utilised in many applications. We currently do not have the ability to cease using lead yet, and if used correctly it enables us to complete everyday tasks, like driving to work. Without the lead in your car battery, you wouldn’t be able to start your car. It is true, alternatives exist, however it will take time for these alternatives to replace lead in all the applications it is used in. So in the meantime, we want to recover what we have used and make sure it doesn’t contaminate our environment in a harmful way. After all it is a naturally occuring element making up about 0.0013 percent of the Earth’s crust.

At Total Green Recycling, our staff safety is our highest priority. Which is why we use the following safety protocols:

  • Negative pressure Lead glass processing room
  • Biological monitoring for lead levels, frequency compliant with regulations (6 monthly)
  • Provision of PPE including gloves and respirators
  • Fit testing for respirators
  • Handwashing stations and industrial hygiene program
  • Dust extractors
  • Industrial floor sweeper fitted with a filtered vacuum to control dust generation.

With the correct protocols and PPE in place recycling leaded glass is safe. Which is why you should ensure your leaded glass is going to the right place.

Once Total Green Recycling has separated the glass it’s sent to Nyrstar where the lead is extracted and used in such items like Lead-acid batteries.

Why we shouldn’t put e-waste into landfill

The landfill acceptance criteria for lead in Western Australia is

  • 2g/T for class 1 and 2 landfills (a lot of rural landfills are class 1 and 2),
  • 20g/T for class 3 landfills,
  • and 200g/T for class 4 landfills.

So if a television weighs 40kg and contains on average 2kg of lead it has a concentration of lead of 50,000g/T.

Not only is it bad to put your old television into landfill, but it’s also against the landfill acceptance criteria here in WA!

Thankfully, due to the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS) items like these can be recycled free of charge.

All you need to do is find your nearest location drop-off point. Or check if your local council has a free E-waste drop-off day coming up.