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Last updated: 14 June 2024

Fibreglass: An In-Depth Examination of Its Environmental Impact

Highlighting the environmental impact of fibreglass waste on land pollution and ecosystem disruption.

Fibreglass, a versatile and widely used material, plays a significant role in various industries, from construction to automotive manufacturing. Woven into the fabric of our daily lives, this material demonstrates its strength, durability, and versatility in everything from insulation and windows to automotive parts and recreational equipment.

People often overlook the environmental impact of fibreglass despite its popularity. Its production and use come with significant environmental implications. The European Commission report found that the EU generates over 30,000 tonnes of fibreglass waste annually. This waste is challenging to manage due to the material's non-biodegradable nature.

This article delves into the environmental impact of fibreglass, supported by statistical data, and explores potential solutions to mitigate its footprint.

What do We Mean by Fibreglass Exactly?

Fibreglass, also known as glass-reinforced plastic (GRP) or glass-fibre-reinforced plastic (GFRP), is a composite material crafted from extremely fine glass fibres. Manufacturers either weave these fibres into a mat or use them to strengthen a plastic resin matrix, creating a versatile material that combines glass's durability with plastic's moldability.

This combination results in a lightweight, strong, and versatile material, making it suitable for various applications.

Note: The discussion around this material can be somewhat confusing because people sometimes use "fiberglass" and "fibreglass", depending on geographical location. While some individuals use these terms synonymously, others distinguish between them based on regional spelling conventions.

To address this, we have adopted a consistent approach. On this page, we use the term fibreglass, as it refers to the same material.

Fibreglass Composition and Manufacturing 

Fibreglass consists of glass fibres and resin. The glass fibres provide strength and durability, while the resin matrix holds them together and allows for moulding into various shapes. The primary ingredient in glass fibres is silica (sand), which is abundant and sustainable. 

Additionally, temperature and humidity changes do not affect it, preventing it from shrinking or expanding under normal conditions. Depending on the final product's desired properties, you can use different resins, such as polyester, vinyl ester, or epoxy.

Types of Fiberglass

  1. A-Glass: Also known as alkali glass, it is resistant to chemicals and similar to window glass. Due to its chemical stability and cost-effectiveness, manufacturers commonly use it for glass containers, such as bottles, jars, and window panes.
  2. C-Glass: Because of its chemical resistance, manufacturers use it in applications requiring resistance to corrosive environments, such as surface tissues for laminates in pipes and containers.
  3. E-Glass: Engineers widely use electrical glass, an excellent electrical insulator, in aerospace, marine, and industrial applications due to its lightweight nature and resistance to heat.
  4. AE-Glass: Alkali-resistant glass is used in concrete to prevent cracking and provide strength and flexibility. It contains zirconia, making it suitable for use in concrete.
  5. S-Glass: Structural glass, known for its superior mechanical properties like high tensile strength and modulus, finds use in high-performance applications such as aerospace and defence.


  • Mechanical Strength: Stronger than many metals by weight.
  • Electrical Insulation: Non-conductive, making it ideal for electrical applications.
  • Thermal Resistance: Low thermal conductivity, excellent for insulation.
  • Fire Retardant: Does not propagate flames.
  • Dimensional Stability: Maintains shape under temperature and humidity changes.
  • Chemical Inertness: Resistant to many chemicals.
  • Durability: Long-lasting and resistant to environmental factors.


Fiberglass is used in various industries due to its beneficial properties:

  • Construction: Used for roofing, cladding, and insulation. Fiberglass-reinforced polymers (FRP) are used for structural elements, reinforcing bars, and panels.
  • Automotive: Employed in body components, panels, hoods, and bumpers due to its lightweight and durable nature.
  • Aerospace: Utilised in aircraft components like wings and rotor blades for strength and durability.
  • Marine: Used in boat hulls and other watercraft parts due to its resistance to corrosion and weathering.
  • Industrial: Applied in pipes, storage tanks, and gaskets for its chemical resistance and durability.
  • Consumer Goods: These are found in products like surfboards, bathtubs, and swimming pools due to their lightweight and durable properties.

Environmental Impact of Fiberglass

Fibreglass production involves melting silica sand and other raw materials at high temperatures to form glass, which is then drawn into fibres. This process is energy-intensive, consuming approximately 17 GJ of energy per tonne of fibreglass produced, requiring substantial amounts of fossil fuels. According to a study by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the glass manufacturing sector, including fibreglass, accounts for about 0.5% of global CO2 emissions.

Moreover, the production process emits various pollutants. For each kilogram of glass melted, about 1 kg of CO2 is emitted, along with other pollutants such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The World Health Organization (WHO) has highlighted that exposure to high levels of these pollutants can lead to respiratory issues and other health problems.

Fiberglass has both positive and negative environmental impacts. It is made from sustainable materials and is energy-efficient, but its production and disposal can be challenging due to its non-biodegradable nature. Proper recycling and disposal methods can mitigate these issues.

Key Environmental Concerns

  1. Energy Consumption: The high energy requirement for melting glass significantly contributes to the carbon footprint of fibreglass. The European glass fibre industry has made strides in reducing energy consumption, achieving an 8.1% reduction in primary energy use per kilogram of continuous filament glass products between 2015 and 2021.
  2. CO2 Emissions: The glass melting process is a major source of CO2 emissions. Producing one tonne of fibreglass emits approximately 1.46 tonnes of CO2. The industry aims to become climate-neutral by 2050, with significant investments in energy efficiency and emission reduction technologies.
  3. Waste Generation: Fiberglass production generates substantial waste, including off-cuts and defective products. In the EU, around 250,000 tonnes of fibreglass waste are landfilled annually, representing 25% of its production. Efforts to recycle fibreglass waste are ongoing, with projects demonstrating the feasibility of using recycled fibreglass in new composite materials.
  4. Pollution: The production process releases NOx, SO2, and VOCs, which contribute to air pollution and have adverse health effects. Additionally, abandoned fibreglass products, such as boats, can break into microplastics, polluting aquatic environments.
MetricAnnual Impact (EU)Daily Impact (EU)Per Tonne Impact
Energy Consumption (GJ)6,205,00017,00017
CO2 Emissions (tonnes)250,0006851
Waste Generation (tonnes)250,0006850.25

Comparisons with Other Materials

It offers some environmental advantages compared to traditional materials like steel and concrete. It is lighter, which reduces transportation emissions, and its corrosion resistance extends its lifespan, reducing the need for frequent replacement. However, the initial production process is more energy-intensive and generates more CO2 per unit weight than steel.

For instance, while steel and aluminium have high recycling rates, fibreglass recycling is still in its infancy. Steel can be recycled infinitely without losing its properties, and aluminium recycling saves up to 95% of the energy required for primary production.

How Fibreglass Enters the Environment

Despite its widespread applications, it inadvertently contributes to environmental pollution through various channels. Disposing of these products, particularly composite waste, is a growing concern. Annually, tonnes of composite waste, including valuable carbon and glass fibres, accumulate from diverse applications.

One of the significant challenges in recycling arises from waste printed circuit boards (PCBs), which are rapidly increasing as a global waste stream. WPCBs comprise 27.4–45.55 wt% glass fibres and contain toxic heavy metals and organic compounds, complicating recycling. 

In the UK, the landfilling percentages for carbon fibres (CF) and glass fibres (GF) stand at 35% and 67%, respectively. Only a small fraction, 20% of CF and 13% of GF undergoes recycling, with even lesser amounts, 2% CF and 6% GF, being reused. In the US, rescuing 2000 tonnes per year of CF waste from landfills and recycling them could generate up to €14.7 million, considering the recycled carbon fibre market price of €10/kg. This value could dramatically increase due to the stable 15% annual increase in virgin CF production worldwide. 

Statistics, Facts, and Figures About Fiberglass

The fibreglass material emerged after extensive research in 1930, primarily driven by the aviation industry's needs. By 1935, Owens Corning had patented "Fiberglas" and, in collaboration with DuPont, developed a resin that enabled the combination of Fiberglas with plastic, marking the inception of modern fibreglass composites. 

Today, advanced manufacturing techniques such as pre-pregs and fibre rovings have further expanded fibreglass applications, enhancing its tensile strength and versatility. This concise overview provides a snapshot of the global fibreglass market, highlighting key statistics, trends, and environmental impacts.

RegionYarn Production (%)Roving Production (%)Market Value 2023 (£ billion)Projected Value 2030 (£ billion)
North America20-2515-209.815.9
  • In 2023, the market reached a value of £23.2 billion and is projected to grow to £37.8 billion by 2030, with a CAGR of 7.2%.
  • The fibreglass industry contributes approximately 0.5% of global CO2 emissions.
  • Over 30,000 tonnes of fibreglass waste are generated annually in the EU.
  • Fibreglass manufacturing consumes around 4.5 million BTUs per tonne of product.
  • Fibreglass production facilities are significant sources of VOC emissions.
  • It is up to 75% lighter than steel yet exhibits comparable strength, making it a preferred material for numerous structural applications.
  • The recycling rate is 44% of production waste recycled in the European glass fibre industry in 2021.
  • The WGF-PP project demonstrated that recycling 17,000 tonnes of glass fibre waste annually in Spain could save 2,890,000 GJ of energy and reduce CO2 emissions by 17,000.
  • The production of 1 tonne of glass fibres results in a carbon footprint of approximately 1.7-2.2 tonnes CO2-eq, comparable to the emissions from steel production.
  • The energy consumption is 17 GJ per tonne of fibreglass

Regional Production and Consumption

  • Asia-Pacific leads in fibreglass production, accounting for 68.6% of global yarn production and 55-60% of roving production. Due to its robust industrial activities and growing construction projects, China remains a key player.
  • North America follows, with 20-25% of yarn production and 15-20% of roving production. The construction, aerospace, and electronics industries drive the region's demand.
  • Europe holds a significant market share, with 5-10% of yarn production and 20-25% of roving production. Germany and the UK are substantial consumers, particularly in the aerospace and automotive sectors. 

Key Market Trends

  1. Wind Energy: Increasing demand for lightweight, durable materials in wind turbine manufacturing.
  2. Electric Mobility: Enhanced structural integrity and reduced weight in electric vehicles.
  3. Smart Buildings: Adoption of energy-efficient construction due to corrosion resistance and durability

Market Segmentation of Fiberglass

By Type:

  • Roving Glass Fibers: Roving glass fibres consist of continuous glass fibre strands or bundles. These fibres are used in various textile technologies, including pultrusion, filament winding, and weaving. 
  • Chopped Glass Fibers: Chopped glass fibres are short strands of glass fibres typically used as reinforcement in composite materials. These fibres enhance the mechanical properties of composites, making them suitable for automotive, construction, and consumer goods applications.
  • Yarn Glass Fibers: Yarn glass fibres are continuous strands of glass fibres twisted together to form yarn. These fibres are used in weaving fabrics for various applications, including printed circuit boards (PCBs), structural parts, and insulation materials.

Key Players

  • Asia: China Jushi Co. Ltd., Chongqing Polycomp International Corp., Taishan Fiberglass Inc.
  • North America: Owens Corning, Johns Manville, PPG Fiber Glass.
  • Europe: Compagnie De Saint-Gobain S.A., Knauf Insulation, Lanxess Deutschland

Top Fibreglass-Producing Economies

The leading producers of fibreglass are China, the United States, Germany, and India. These countries dominate the market due to their advanced manufacturing capabilities and high demand across multiple sectors.

CountryExport Value (£ billion)Import Value (£ billion)Net Export (£ billion)Production Capacity (Metric Tons/Year)
China£3.7 billion£643 million£3.06 billion5.4 million
United States£1.32 billion£1.98 billion-£662 million1.2 million
Germany£1.06 billion£1.43 billion-£368 million700,000
Belgium£696 million£347 million£349 million160,000
France£640 million£745 million-£105 million96,000
India£180.6 million£385 million-£33.1 million500,000

China leads the world in fibreglass production, accounting for 57.70% of global output in 2023. The United States and Europe follow, with North America contributing 15.78% to global production. Increased construction, automotive, and renewable energy use drive this growth.


The global fibreglass market is poised for significant growth. By 2034, the market value is expected to reach £15,000 million, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.30%.

Is Fiberglass Dangerous?

Despite its various benefits to various applications, it raises concerns regarding its safety, particularly health-related. Individuals can experience skin, eye, and respiratory irritations when handling or exposed to fibreglass. The tiny fibres can lodge in the skin, causing itchiness and rashes, and when they make contact with the eyes, they can result in redness and soreness. 

Short-Term Exposure

  • Skin Irritation: Contact with fibreglass can cause itching and rashes.
  • Respiratory Issues: Inhalation of fibres can lead to coughing and wheezing.
  • Eye Irritation: Airborne fibres can irritate the eyes.

Long-Term Exposure

  • Asthma and Bronchitis: Prolonged exposure can aggravate these conditions.
  • Lung Cancer: Some studies suggest a potential link between fibreglass exposure and lung cancer.

Despite the health risks, fibreglass offers several advantages. It provides excellent thermal insulation, reducing energy consumption in buildings. Its lightweight nature also makes transporting and installing easier, reducing its environmental footprint.

Is Fibreglass Biodegradable?

Fiberglass presents a complex case when evaluating its biodegradability. Some claims state that it is biodegradable and can be recycled completely, but the reality is more nuanced. 

The glass fibres have biodegradable properties, but the petrochemical-derived resins that bind these fibres are not. This combination makes fibreglass a non-biodegradable composite material.

For instance, in environments like the Pacific North, wet fibreglass insulation, if left exposed, will deteriorate over time, but this process is extremely slow, taking decades or even centuries. The deterioration is not biodegradation but a breakdown facilitated by physical processes such as wind or water erosion. 

On average, it can take up to 50 years to fully biodegrade. This extended timeframe highlights its durability and suitability for long-term applications.

Fiberglass TypeBiodegradation Time (Years)

While recycling offers a more sustainable option by keeping the material in use for longer periods and reducing the demand for new resources, the complex nature of fibreglass makes recycling efforts challenging. 

Disposal and Recycling Challenges

The disposal and recycling of fibreglass present significant challenges, primarily due to its composition and durability. The glass fibre to composites market generates nearly 1.4 billion kilograms of waste annually. Recycling fibreglass is more complex than other plastics because of the glass fibre content, which complicates the recycling process. 

Because it contains glass fibre, people cannot recycle fibreglass with other types of plastic. This necessitates separate handling to avoid contaminating the recycling stream.

Despite the potential to recycle up to 75% of all waste, the current recycling rate remains alarmingly low at 35%. This stark contrast between recycled and potentially recyclable waste highlights the urgent need to boost recycling initiatives and promote sustainable waste management practices.

Challenges and Solutions in Fibreglass Recycling

Separation of materialsDevelop technology to separate materials in fibreglass effectively
Reduction in fibre usefulnessInnovate recycling methods that preserve fibre integrity
Limited recycling facilitiesIncrease investment in specialised recycling plants
Environmental impactImplement stricter regulations and encourage sustainable practices

Is Fiberglass Sustainable?

Fiberglass emerges as a natural choice for those seeking energy-efficient, sustainable solutions. Its low embodied energy, representing the total energy required to produce the product from raw materials through delivery, underscores its environmental benefits. 

Additionally, fibreglass's low coefficient of thermal expansion, similar to float glass, means it pairs well with glazing materials, enhancing durability and efficiency in applications such as windows and doors. 

Fiberglass windows and doors stand out as particularly energy-efficient. Their design helps seal out elements even in extreme climate conditions, contributing to reduced energy costs. Many of these products have earned the ENERGY STAR® label, reflecting their exceptional energy performance. These features make it a popular choice in LEED® certified and Green Globes® projects, further supporting its reputation as a sustainable material.

Moreover, the industry is committed to sustainability, as evidenced by a recent report prepared by PwC for Glass Fibre Europe. This report highlights that primary energy consumption for producing continuous filament glass products dropped by 8.1%, and greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 3.2% on average. 

The same report highlights advancements in the circular economy within the industry. In 2021, the industry recycled 44% of its production waste, a substantial increase from 26% in 2015. These improvements reflect the industry's ambitious goal to achieve climate neutrality by 2050 and ensure zero internal waste is in landfills. 

The investments made towards sustainability yield visible results, aligning with global efforts to mitigate environmental impact. This is evident in the industry’s decision to reduce the environmental footprint of its products.

Environmental Impact Compared to Everyday Things

The environmental footprint of fibreglass compared to everyday materials like plastics and metals is complex. On the one hand, engineered polymers combined with glass fibres reduce the need for metals and wood, which are heavy polluters due to their processing and life-cycle emissions. 

Therefore, Understanding its carbon footprint compared to everyday items helps highlight the urgency of sustainable practices. One tonne of glass fibres produces approximately 1.7-2.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions. This high energy consumption and material use make fibreglass significantly contribute to greenhouse gases.

Here’s a comparison:

Everyday Things by ItemCO2 Emissions
1 tonne of fiberglass1.7-2.2 tonnes CO2e
1 kg of glass melted1 kg CO2e
1 kg of natural fibres (flax, hemp, jute, kenaf)0.35-0.55 tonnes CO2e
1 kg of cement0.621 tonnes CO2e
1 hour of smartphone use daily (annual)70 kg CO2e
1-hour Zoom call on a laptop20 g CO2e
1 kg of bread (locally produced)630 g CO2e
1 kg of bread (extensively transported)1 kg CO2e
One paper bag (recycled)12 g CO2e
One paper bag (virgin paper)80 g CO2e
Plastic (1 kg)6.00 kg CO2e
Steel (1 kg)1.85 kg CO2e
Aluminum (1 kg)8.20 kg CO2e

Key Insights

  • Fibreglass vs Natural Fibers: Natural fibres like flax and hemp have a much lower carbon footprint, about 80% less than fibreglass.
  • Cement Production: Cement, a major construction material, emits 0.621 tonnes of CO2 per tonne, contributing significantly to global emissions.
  • Daily Activities: Simple actions like using a smartphone or sending emails also add up. For instance, a smartphone used for an hour daily results in 70 kg of CO2 annually.

While it emits less CO2 than other materials, its production still contributes significantly to global emissions. Sustainable alternatives and recycling efforts become crucial in mitigating its environmental footprint. For instance, recycling 1 tonne of fibreglass can save 1.46 tonnes of CO2. 

What Are Alternatives to Fibreglass?

Flax Cloth

Flax cloth, derived from the flax plant, offers a sustainable alternative to fibreglass. It requires less energy to produce and has a negative net carbon footprint. Manufacturers use flax-based composites in automotive parts, personal protective equipment, and other applications. Although flax is not as strong as fibreglass, it provides sufficient strength for many uses while being more environmentally friendly.

2. Hemp Cloth

Hemp cloth is another eco-friendly alternative. It is easier to cut and handle and offers increased strength from non-toxic material. Various industries use hemp composites for automotive parts, sports equipment, and construction materials. They are lighter and stronger than glass fibres, making them a viable option for reducing weight and cost in manufacturing.

3. Bamboo Cloth

Bamboo cloth is known for its flexibility and strength. It is used in surfboards, textiles, and other applications. Bamboo grows quickly and requires minimal pesticides, making it a sustainable choice. However, bamboo cloth tends to absorb more resin, which can make the final product heavier.

4. Basalt Cloth

Basalt cloth, made from volcanic rock, offers superior strength and high-temperature performance compared to fibreglass. It is UV-resistant and maintains its integrity under extreme conditions. For example, the automotive, aerospace, and construction industries use basalt fibres. Although more expensive than fibreglass, basalt provides a middle ground between glass and carbon fibres.

5. Timber Veneers

Thin layers of wood called timber veneers reinforce materials, offering a natural appearance and essential in applications where aesthetics matter. Timber veneers are sustainable and biodegradable, making them an eco-friendly alternative to fibreglass

Comparing Environmental Impacts

Bamboo, cork, and hemp are renewable, biodegradable materials that are sustainable alternatives to fibreglass. These materials significantly lower environmental impacts by reducing energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste production.

However, fibreglass still holds advantages regarding fire resistance, ease of installation, and affordability. The choice ultimately depends on the project's specific application, performance requirements, and environmental priorities.

MaterialStrength (Relative to Fibreglass)Weight (Relative to Fibreglass)Environmental ImpactCost (GBP/kg)
Flax Cloth4x weakerSimilarLow1.7
Hemp Cloth2x stronger44% lighterLow2.0
Bamboo ClothSimilarHeavierLow1.8
Basalt ClothStrongerSimilarLow2.5
Timber VeneersWeakerSimilarLow1.5

To illustrate the comparative performance of these materials, consider the following:

MaterialThermal Insulation (R-value per inch)Acoustic InsulationFire ResistanceMoisture ResistanceEnvironmental Impact
Fibreglass3.2 - 4.3GoodExcellentFairModerate
Wool Insulation3.6 - 4.3ExcellentGoodExcellentLow
Soy-Based Foam3.6 - 4.8GoodFairGoodLow
Basalt Cloth4.0 - 4.5GoodExcellentExcellentLow
Flax Cloth2.5 - 3.5FairFairGoodVery Low
Hemp Cloth3.0 - 3.8GoodFairGoodVery Low
Bamboo Fabric2.8 - 3.6FairFairGoodLow
Recycled Denim3.0 - 3.8GoodFairGoodLow

While fibreglass remains popular for its strength and durability, sustainable alternatives like hemp, bamboo, flax, and basalt offer significant environmental benefits. These materials are biodegradable, require less water, and have lower CO2 emissions.

MaterialWater Usage (litres/kg)CO2 Emissions (kg/kg)BiodegradabilityStrength (MPa)

However, its energy-intensive production process contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Proper handling and disposal are crucial to minimised health risks and environmental impact. 

While fibreglass offers many benefits in strength, durability, and versatility, its production still has significant environmental impacts. By improving recycling rates, enhancing energy efficiency, and exploring alternative materials, the industry can reduce its environmental footprint and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Consequently, as we look toward the horizon, it becomes clear that a collective effort is paramount in transitioning towards materials that satisfy our needs and harmonise with our planet’s ecological boundaries.

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