Environmental Concerns Associated with Collecting Sea Glass

sea glass in my hand

Sea glass, or beach glass, are beautiful gems that are found on the beach. They are a result of nature recycling broken glass that has been dumped into the sea by beating it and frosting it up using currents and waves.

While sea glass is beautiful and perfect for souvenirs and for making jewelry, there are environmental concerns associated with collecting sea glass.

Read on to learn more about how sea glass and its collection affect the environment.

Is The Process Of Sea Glass Formation Harmful To The Environment?

Sea glass is a product of both human and natural occurrences. It begins with the dumping of waste glass into the sea. Before the 1950s, glass containers were widely used.

Also, there were no intricate waste disposal systems or a keen focus on environmental conservation. So, people all over the world would dump waste into the oceans and other water bodies.  

Glass is not a biodegradable item; despite being made with natural raw materials. Glass is made by melting sand, along with soda ash and limestone.

glass bottle on the beach

Therefore, it poses a danger to marine life, especially in its micro and nano size, which makes it easy for marine animals to ingest.

Consuming glass can cause injuries to marine life or fatality. On top of that, it interferes with the food chain, affecting the ecosystem. On top of that, glass may enter the human food chain through the consumption of seafood.

So, in essence, the source of sea glass is quite detrimental to the environment.

What Is The Impact of Sea Glass on the Environment?

Sea glass is very appealing. It makes for a perfect collectible and also creates beautiful jewelry. However, sea glass is not harmless, specifically to the environment.

Since it is a product of broken glass that has been discarded into the sea, sea glass takes many years to decompose. Thus, if it contains toxic substances or is too sharp, it can be hazardous or harmful to sea life.

Sea animals can’t always differentiate food from other substances in the sea. So, they are likely to ingest sea glass, mistaking it for food. This causes harm to the animals.

While sea glass is quite detrimental to the environment, its effects are not as far-reaching as those caused by plastic waste and oil drainage. Even so, it doesn’t mean that less should be put into disposing of glass waste correctly.

How Does the Collection of Sea Glass Affect The Environment?

Collecting sea glass has both positive and negative effects on the environment. One of the positive aspects of collecting sea glass is that it is a natural resource for beachcombers.

It is an exciting activity as the sea provides the glass through natural processes.

Secondly, collecting sea glass promotes beach clean-ups, in what is referred to as responsible beach combing. This is where people also pick up litter, such as plastic waste, as they collect the gems. The result is a cleaner beach.

Also, sea glass is non-biodegradable. This means it takes very many years to decompose. So, picking them up from the beach is a lot like picking debris.

Negative effects of sea glass collection on the environment include:

  • Disruption of natural habitats
  • Coastal Erosion

Disruption Of Natural Habitats

The over-collection of sea glass on the beach can destroy coastal habitats. As sea glass is quite popular, some collectors are so determined to find them that they dig into the sand or go ravaging.

This disrupts the natural habitat of animals that live on the beach and potentially endangers local wildlife.

Coastal Erosion

Since sea glass is essentially found on beaches and shorelines, excess removal of the gem exposes the beach to erosion. It becomes easy for the sand to be washed away, and as a result, this affects the stability of the beach’s ecosystem.

Why Some Beaches Prohibit Sea Glass Collection

There are several beaches in the US where it is illegal to carry things from the beach. Sea glass is particularly protected on many beaches, such as the popular Fort Bragg in California.

Fort Bragg is arguably the beach with the most sea glass in the world.

Fort Bragg with sea glass
Fort Bragg has more sea glass than any other beach in the world

Many beaches around the world prohibit sea glass collection because:

  • It disrupts a beach’s natural ecosystem: As discussed above in the article, irresponsible collection of sea glass could be detrimental to the beach environment. It disrupts sand dunes and even sites for bird nesting.
  • Safety of beachgoers: some pieces of sea glass, along with some other things on the beach, may pose a danger to collectors for being sharp or toxic. So, some beaches have disallowed sea glass collection to keep beachgoers safe.
  • Preservation of sea glass: Sea glass is becoming increasingly rare because it is hardly being produced anymore. Therefore, some beaches, such as Fort Bragg, have illegalized sea glass collection in an effort to preserve the gem so that future generations can enjoy it.

That said most beaches in the UK allow the collection of sea glass.

Production Of Artificial Sea Glass and Its Green House Effect

The demand for sea glass keeps increasing while the supply has been going down. In an effort to solve this predicament, people have been manufacturing artificial sea glass.

While it is comparatively sustainable and eco-friendly, artificial sea glass can contribute to the greenhouse effect if not handled correctly.

The production and disposal methods of artificial sea glass determine how it affects the environment. The production utilizes energy that it acquired from fossil fuels. The fuels release greenhouse gases such as carbon (IV) oxide and methane.

If not disposed of properly, artificial sea glass may end up in places where it causes negative effects on the environment. For instance, disposing of the glass in a landfill or a water body will cause environmental degradation.

One way to reduce the greenhouse effect of artificial sea glass on the environment is by using recycled glass for production. This reduces the amount of energy used in the process. Proper disposal of the product is also good for the environment.

Final Words

Sea glass is among the most beautiful things you can find on the beach. They are a product of both human and natural activity, where the sea recycles broken glass pieces that have been dumped at sea.

There are environmental concerns associated with collecting sea glass, as has been highlighted above in this article.

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