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How Sea Glass (or Beach Glass) is Made

Updated on January 13, 2014

A Map of the Great Lakes

How sea glass (or beach glass in my case) is made is a rather simple tale. In some cases, an inconsiderate jerk either threw a glass object into a body of water or left it on the ground somewhere to later be washed away into a body of water. For example, I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere NY that is surrounded by creeks. People only really notice the creeks when they threaten to flood their banks. Back in the day around here dumping trash into the local ravines (a narrow steep-sided valley that led down to the creeks) was common practice. Some people would literally just go into their back yard and dump their garbage into the creek. It's illegal today, but that doesn't mean people don't still do it. Those people are jerks and they are ruining the environment for everyone else. A lot of what I have found on the shores of my local creek, I believe to be the result of dumping into the ravine. It certainly would have been garbage back in the day, but for me now it is interesting.

In a less likely, but unfortunate scenario, the glass object could have ended up in the local waterways when someone's house was flooded and their possessions were washed away. A few years ago, an entire trailer park was devastatingly washed away when the creeks in my town flooded their banks following unprecedented rain fall (we'll talk more about this in a later hub about how people are irrevocably changing the environment). Ship wrecks are also a potential source for sea glass. There are not a whole lot of ships on Lake Erie anymore, but back in the 1800's Lake Erie was a bustling hub of activity. There were active ports, trading, and the Erie Canal that could take ships and trade materials from the Hudson River at Albany, NY to Lake Erie, a complete navigable water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes. During the war of 1812, many vessels battled on the waves of Lake Erie as well. America is no longer at war with Great Britain, nor is Canada a British colony anymore for that matter, and trade via ship in this area has long since ceased leaving behind empty towns and broken cities. The trains were built and the canal was basically abandoned. I'm still waiting to find buried treasure, however I have found at least one piece of glass that is the result of a shipwreck. Glass from an 1800's shipwreck washed up on the shores of Lake Erie will be very thick and very dark in color according to a local expert. It is very hard and very uncommon to find, but not impossible.

Beach glass with distinguishing marks (on left) versus more weathered beach glass (on right).
Beach glass with distinguishing marks (on left) versus more weathered beach glass (on right). | Source

I guess it doesn't matter how the glass object got there, only that at some point it found its way into a creek, lake, river, or any other form of moving water. It has to be a moving body of water, a pond doesn't really count because the glass will most likely just sink to the bottom and get buried under mud. Over years and years of time, the glass shards tumble through the water hitting rocks and twigs and are constantly being rolled around, washing ashore only to be carried away by the waves again. The sharp edges become dull and rounded during this period just like anything that has been sitting outside for a long time. The slickness of the glass also takes on a frosted appearance. The longer the glass has been tumbling in the water, the more frosted the glass looks. Frosted glass could be well over 100 years old. Sea glass (glass weathered by oceans or other sources of salt water) tend to have a more weathered and frosted look because they are generally in the ocean longer (in comparison to other bodies of water) and the salt in the water contributes to the weathering of glass. On the other hand, beach glass (glass from the Great Lakes region) tends to have less of a weathered look. While frosted and more rounded glass is certainly prettier, glass from the Great Lakes region tends to have more distinguishing figures and embossed designs and letters on it, which is good for me because it gives me more to blog about and it is easier to identify the source of the glass piece (see picture above). Glass can also be turned into beach glass by man-made, or synthetic, means, but you have to have a special machine for that and it does not need explanation.

Beach glass colors found most often.
Beach glass colors found most often. | Source

How to Find Sea or Beach Glass

Any large body (very large body) of water will most likely have sea or beach glass. I have even found some on the shores of the local creek, so it doesn't necessarily mean you have to live next to a large body of water to find it (it just makes it easier). If you live in the middle of the desert, though, you might be out of luck.

The best places to find beach glass on a creek or river are along bends or curves in the body of water you are searching. When the water level in the creek, river, etc are higher than normal, such as after a heavy rain, glass that gets caught up in the moving water will most likely be deposited where the creek bends and twists as the water recedes. Along rocky shorelines is another great place to find beach or sea glass. Rocks will catch the sea glass and prevent it from being washed away back into a body of water. It will also provide a dark background for easier spotting of glass. On sandy beaches, the glass will sink into the sand, or be carried away easier by the waves. You can find beach or sea glass on a sandy beach, but you will find much less glass compared to a rocky shoreline. However, the glass will be more weathered on a sandy beach as the glass is more likely to have been in the water longer before finally washing ashore.

The best time to find beach glass is after a big storm, but not directly after. If the waves are still high, then glass is carried away by the large waves as quickly as it is deposited. As soon as the waves start to settle down, though, that is the best time to find glass. I carry my backpack with me (pretty much everywhere I go) and I can fill an entire front pouch in less than an hour after a storm while still entertaining my rambunctious puppy. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty either, by turning over rocks or doing a little digging if something catches your eye. Sometimes I've even wandered into shallow water to pick pieces off the bottom of the lake. If you are looking for sea glass, the best time to look is low tide.

Green glass, brown or amber glass, and clear glass seems to be the most prominent colors found, at least in the experience of myself and others. If you know a little about how glass is made, then you'll know that making clear, green, or brown glass is cheaper than the other colors. Those colors are also in wider use for everyday objects such as pop bottles, beer bottles, plates and cups, etc (because of the previously mentioned fact that they are cheap to make). These I call the common colors. Blue glass and other colors are rare finds. I have only ever found one piece of glass that was pink and and a few pieces that were purple. If you want to find red pieces of glass, you will have to be extremely lucky or stubborn. I have found a few pieces, but I happened to be standing in the exact spot they washed up and caught them before they were washed away. I recently talked to an expert who makes beach glass jewelry for a living. According to them if you wish to find red beach glass, then you will have to dig in the sand along the shorelines for it.

Depending on what you want to do with the glass, once you have a substantial collection going, you can be picky with what glass pieces you want to take home with you. Personally, I take everything I find. I can always get rid of it later if I don't need it or want it anymore. (Plus I like to think I'm doing my part to help keep the beaches clean this way.)

Uncommon beach glass colors including pink, purple, dark blue and odd shades of green (green not associated with glass bottles).
Uncommon beach glass colors including pink, purple, dark blue and odd shades of green (green not associated with glass bottles). | Source

Now that all of this glass has been collected, we've reached a critical question: what can you do with beach (or sea) glass? There are many different projects that can be done using recycled glass from the easy to the not so easy. I will go in greater detail on these projects in later hubs, the first of which you can find here: Stay tuned, however, for later hubs on more projects that can be done with your finds.

Until next time, fellow adventurers!


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    • QuoteAmber profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Earth

      Thanks, LisaRoppolo! Looking for beach glass is a lot of fun and I always find the pieces I can track the origin of to be the most fascinating.

    • LisaRoppolo profile image

      Lisa Roppolo 

      5 years ago from Joliet, IL

      Awesome article. Now I want to go to lake Michigan and look for some!


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