February 23, 2024 | Miles Brucker

Glass Beaches: From Trash to Treasure


Glass Beaches

From dumping sites to national treasures—Glass Beaches are intriguing, popular landmarks that draw in thousands of visitors every year. 

What is it about these unusual beaches that attract so much attention?

Glass Beaches Split Gallery

What are glass beaches?

Glass Beaches are beautiful ocean shorelines where the sand is mixed with an abundance of colorful glass pebbles.

Glass BeachIrinaK, Shutterstock

How are glass beaches formed?

Glass Beaches are formed when discarded glass bottles, jars, and other glass objects end up in the ocean.

Over time, the glass fragments are shaped and polished by the waves, tumbling against the rocks and sand.

Glass Bottle On The BeachRevital Salomon, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Where does the glass come from?

The glass that is found on glass beaches is usually from beachside garbage dumps, or nearby communities that dump their waste into the ocean.

Glass Bottle BeachRhododendrites, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

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How long does it take to soften the glass?

The sharp shards of glass are tumbled through the waves, softening them slowly. It takes around 20-40 years to gradually smooth and shape the glass fragments into small colorful pebbles.

Some sea glass takes 100-200 years to acquire its characteristic texture and shape.

Sea glass stoneselinaxx1v, Shutterstock

What are the pebbles called?

The small colorful pebbles created from the glass are referred to as “sea glass” pebbles.

glass beachesWollertz, Shutterstock

What colors are the pebbles?

The sea glass pebbles are typically shades of blue, green, brown, white, and occasionally red and orange. It all depends on the colors of the glass bottles that were discarded.

Glass beachChris H. Galbraith, Shutterstock

Can you walk on a glass beach?

Yes, it is safe to walk along a glass beach. The sea glass has been softened enough that it will not likely hurt your feet.

Glass BeachPoorty Chitre, Shutterstock

Can you take the glass pebbles home?

It is encouraged that you leave the beach how you found it. Even though they are literally made from garbage, glass beaches have a natural beauty that attract thousands of people each year.

Some people prefer it, to clean up the beaches, and others prefer you to leave it behind for the next generation to enjoy.

Glass BeachAneta Waberska, Shutterstock

Is sea glass bad for the environment?

Considering sea glass is technically discarded trash dumped in the ocean, yes, it is bad for the environment. Many times there is much more than clean glass being tossed into the water.

Glass BeachIrinaK, Shutterstock

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What are the advantages of sea glass?

Since glass in particular is a natural recycled material, it can then be used in place of new, raw materials in a variety of ways.

colorful glass pebbles  beachWollertz, Shutterstock

What is sea glass used for?

Sea glass is commonly used to create jewelry, and various art pieces. Genuine sea glass can be a valuable commodity if it comes from an actual glass beach.

Unique handmade aqua marine sea glass jewelryseeshooteatrepeat, Shutterstock

How do you know if sea glass is genuine?

You can spot real sea glass from fake sea glass by looking for the distinct “pitted” appearance. Some natural sea glass also has a frosty look to it, from the salt content in the ocean.

Pile of rounded glass shards or sea-glass of Fort BraggPi-Lens, Shutterstock

What do the colors mean?

The color of the pebble refers to the type of glass bottle it came from.

Green glass often came from beer, wine or soda bottles. Brown glass is from newer beer bottles, but also old household cleaners. White sea glass is from soda bottles or window panes.

Colorful glass pebbles at beachelinaxx1v, Shutterstock

How are the colors classified?

Sea glass colors are classified by rarity. There are seven ultra-rare colors and five rare colors. Then there are about five other colors that are more commonly found.

Glass beachartem evdokimov, Shutterstock

What is the rarest color of sea glass?

Orange is the rarest sea glass color mainly because there was very little orange glass made. The other “ultra-rare” colors include turquoise, red, yellow, black, teal and grey.

Glass Beach in Fort BraggAneta Waberska, Shutterstock

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What are the rare colors?

After the ultra-rare colors, the next most rare colors of sea glass include pink, aqua, cobalt, cornflower blue, and purple (amethyst).

Unique glass beach in VladivostokSavinova Yana, Shutterstock

Which colors are most commonly found?

The most common colors of sea glass found are amber, UV green, sea foam green, white and brown.

Colorful polished pieces of sea glass collected from the beachelinaxx1v, Shutterstock

What is the most interesting kind of sea glass?

Sea glass made with uranium dioxide will glow under a black light. These may be tough to find, and are considered rare.

glass beachArina Popkova, Shutterstock

Where does glow-in-the-dark sea glass come from?

Ultraviolet glass is a yellow-green glass that was mostly produced for household items such as tableware in the mid 1800's up until WWII—which explains why it is rarer to find these days.

Beach glassShorelineGalesPhotography, Shutterstock

What is milk sea glass?

Milk sea glass pebbles are made from a rare kind of opaque white glassware.

glass at beachmlhradio, Flickr

What is the spiritual meaning of sea glass?

Some people believe sea glass is regarded as a symbol of renewal and healing—a metaphor for life.

glass beachesRegina Erofeeva, Shutterstock

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What is pirate sea glass?

“Pirate Sea Glass” are small glass pebbles that look black, but when held up to the light, their true color is revealed. Most of them are a dark olive-green color.

Some have air bubbles inside, indicating that they were made by hand and therefore very old.

Glass beachFinlandi, Shutterstock

Is sea glass only found on ocean shorelines?

No, sea glass can also be found on fresh-water beaches from large lakes. Any body of water that has a high amount of garbage in it, either from shipwrecks or from dump sites.

Lake Baikal glassJulia Baturina, Shutterstock

Which North American Lake has the most beach glass?

Lake Eerie, which borders Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario, is said to be a goldmine for beach glass.

Its 2,000+ shipwrecks, combined with shallow waters and Cleveland’s multiple dump sites make it a prime location for beach glass.

Lake Erie beachJeffrey M. Frank, Shutterstock

What is the largest piece of beach glass ever found?

Largest piece of beach glass ever found on Lake Erie weighing in at 275 pounds. It is currently being displayed at the Ashtabula Maritime & Surface Transportation Museum near Cleveland, Ohio.

beach glass found on Lake ErieMark K., Flickr

Can sea glass be found on any coastal beach?

Not really, no. Surely, the odd piece could be found on ocean shorelines, but typically, glass beaches are formed closer to garbage dump sites.

There are a few famous glass beaches in the world, one in particular in the U.S. is a popular tourist site.

glass beacheselinaxx1v, Shutterstock

Where are the glass beaches located?

There are several glass beaches around the world. Some in particular are located in England, Puerto Rico, Australia, Bermuda, Hawaii, Spain, Japan, the USA, and more.

glass beachelinaxx1v, Shutterstock

Which glass beach is the most well-known?

The most famous Glass Beach is located in MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg, California. It was formerly a dumping ground for trash in the early to mid-20th century.

Glass Beach Fort BraggJef Poskanzer, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How did the beach in Fort Bragg become a glass beach?

Back in 1906, Fort Bragg residents established an official water dumping site close by, where they disposed of glass bottles, appliances, and even vehicles.

In 1946, once that site was filled up, they opened a second site, and then a third. The third site is now what is known as The Glass Beach.

Fort Bragg glass beachJef Poskanzer, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Is it still a dump site today?

No, the California State Water Resources Control Board and city leaders closed the dumping site in 1967.

Fort Bragg glass beachNWY69, Flickr

Were there any clean-up efforts?

Yes. Various cleanup programs were undertaken through the years to correct the damage. Over several decades, whatever was biodegradable simply degraded, and the metal and other items were removed and sold for scrap.

All that was left was the glass.

Glass Beach Fort BraggJef Poskanzer, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Why were the glass pieces left behind?

It is likely that the glass was left behind simply because it was too small to gather. Over the years, the glass had already broken into small pieces, softened, and scattered around the ocean floor.

Fort Bragg glass beachdave ungar, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How many glass beach sites are in Fort Bragg?

There are actually three glass beaches in the Fort Bragg area of California. These coordinate with the three dump sites listed earlier.

Fort Bragg glass beachmlhradio, Flickr

Where exactly are they located?

Sites Two and Three (the third one being officially known as “Glass Beach”) are located at the end of the path that begins on the corner of Elm Street and Glass Beach Drive.

These sites are accessible by foot and by a short climb down the cliffs surrounding the beach.

Girl Standing On A Rock At Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, CaliforniaCharles Nadeau, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How many people visit Glass Beach?

About 1,000 to 1,200 tourists visit Fort Bragg's glass beaches each day in the summer. Though the beach is also popular in the spring and fall when it is said to be the most beautiful times of year to visit.

glass beachKaterina Klio, Shutterstock

How does tourism affect the Glass Beach?

Most visitors collect glass from the glass beaches. Because of this and also because of natural factors (wave action is constantly grinding down the glass), the glass is slowly diminishing.

Eventually, there won’t be any glass left on the glass beaches.

Tourists on glass beachRobert Couse-Baker, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

How can we avoid this?

There is currently a movement by Captain J. H. Forrington to replenish the beaches with discarded glass, allowing nature to continue to make the beautiful glass pebbles.

glass  from glass beachWokandapix, Needpix

Who is Captain Forrington?

Captain Forrington, is the founder, owner and curator of the local Sea Glass Museum.

He is a strong advocate for a full-time research facility studying the benefits to the marine environment of the minerals used to make and clarify the glass.

Beach glassleoleobobeo, Needpix

Will this actually happen?

Dumping glass back into the ocean to recreate the glass beaches is highly unlikely.

In 2012, the City Council of the City of Fort Bragg declined to move forward with replenishment efforts due to the cost and assumed likelihood that required permits would not be approved.

Fort Bragg City HallJim Heaphy, CC BY 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

How many people collect sea glass?

There are countless people around the world who collect items they find on beaches. They are known as “beachcombers”.

Beachcombers collect sea glass for many reasons: to sell it, to make art with it, and sometimes just to collect it.

BeachcombersAli Eminov, Flickr

How much is sea glass worth?

This greatly depends on where in the world you find the glass, where you are trying to sell it, and the pieces you are wanting to sell.

In the U.S., genuine sea glass can sell for around $5 to $10 each for rare colors and sizes.

sea glass pebblesBOOCYS, Shutterstock

When is the best time to find sea glass?

After a storm is usually a good time to check the beach for sea glass, as the rough waters bring sea glass from the ocean floor to the shorelines.

beachcombersTFoxFoto, Shutterstock

Final Thoughts

The existence of sea glass—although it is ultimately trash of the sea—is a capitvating window into the past that provides an understanding of how glass is made, and the powerful forces it can withstand.

Not only are glass beaches a spectacular sight to see, they are also a goldmine for sea glass collectors looking to earn a few bucks while taking in more of nature’s intriguing beauty.

Glass Beach in Fort BraggAneta Waberska, Shutterstock


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