The art of glassblowing dates back at least 2000 years.

Lena Måwe is protective of the deep traditions that lie behind the art of glassblowing, even as she strives to reduce the environmental impacts of her own studio, Ramnäs Glashytta. “You don’t have to take away the color or produce boring glass just to make it more environmentally friendly,” she says.

Måwe and her partner, Carl Ryd, work with recycled glass in their products, so their raw materials may include discarded mineral water bottles and jam jars. Måwe finds that this mass-produced glass hardens very quickly after heating. “Compared with the usual crystal, we have only one-third of the time to blow the glass,” she says. The composition of the input glass affects the finished products in various ways, so when the glassworks produces blue glass, old blue wine bottles can be a good raw material.

It used to be that it was difficult to color recycled glass, but a minor revolution has now made it possible to introduce colors in the manufacture of new glass from reclaimed raw materials. Ramnäs Glashytta is on the front line of this shift.

The greening of glassblowing

About 15 different shades are currently available as color rods for recycled glass.

Glassblowing is a traditional artistic craft with roots that go back thousands of years. For the most part, the same materials, methods and tools have been in use for millennia, even if furnaces have become more energy efficient and other green improvements have been introduced to the various production stages. For example, Ramnäs Glashytta keeps its carbon footprint down by firing its ovens not with fossil fuels but with electricity from renewable sources. The company also uses recyclable packaging.

Ramnäs Glashytta takes its raw materials from recycled soda glass, a mixture of quartz sand, limestone and soda ash that contains fewer chemicals than traditional crystal glass. Until recently, the only way to color this reclaimed glass was by rolling it in a color powder. This method provides certain desirable artistic qualities, but the color is usually uneven and simply coats the outside of the glass surface.

One of the main coloring techniques for hand production of glass is the use of “color rods,” and there are thousands of colors to choose from for artisans working with normal crystal. The problem is that color rods are incompatible with recycled soda glass; the glass and the colors don’t shrink uniformly as the material cools, which can cause the colors to crack. Over the past two years, Ramnäs Glashytta has worked with the German glass company Optul to develop and test color rods that perform properly with recycled glass material. The result is a range of color rods that give the glass a smooth surface.

So far, this cooperation between Ramnäs Glashytta and Optul has led to about fifteen colors suitable for recycled glass – and these have the advantage of being lead free. “This is a major breakthrough for glassworks everywhere, and perhaps especially for glass manufacturers in developing countries where recycled glass is an important raw material,” Måwe says. The new coloring method is also lifting the status of recycled glass status in art and design applications.

Article published in December 2010