How Is Beach Glass Formed and Where Is It Found?

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When you walk along the shore of the beach, you’ll likely see plenty of seashells, rocks, and other debris from beach goers. The last time I walked on the shore, I came across what appeared to be small colorful glass pebbles.

These pebbles are really beach glass. They are not natural gems created by mother nature. They are small pieces of glass from broken bottles and other debris that have been drifting in the water.

These small pieces of glass are called either sea glass or beach glass.  Hunting for these small pieces of glass has become an increasingly popular pastime for many beach goers but what exactly is it? If you’re curious about beach glass, there are a few details that you should know. For example, how is beach glass formed and where can you find it? Here are the answers…

What Is Beach Glass?

​Beach glass most likely not what many of us may think it is. Some people may make the assumption that beach glass is a natural material that is created when lightning discharges into the ground . This  occurrence creates a different substance or matter.

When the lightning strikes the sand that has a high concentration of quartz or silica, it can create a tube of glass called fulgurite. The fulgurite appears almost like a rotted tree branch or driftwood. It is basically petrified lightning.

Beach glass does not come from lightning. It comes from broken glass that spends years in the water. Like seashells, you are most likely to find it near the shore.

sea glass vs beach glass

Difference Between Beach Glass and Sea Glass

While searching for beach glass, I realized that the term may refer to either naturally produced or artificially produced beach glass. When it is naturally produced, the glass is often called sea glass.

When people refer to beach glass, they may be talking about the artificially produced glass that is made to resemble sea glass. Instead of finding it on the beach, people make this beach glass from broken shards of glass placed in a rock tumbler.

If you plan to buy jewelry or any other items made with beach glass, you may want to  determine if it is real beach glass or artificial.

Depending on who you are talking to, you may find individuals who refer to beach glass as having been formed by fresh water (shores of a lake) while sea glass is formed in salt water.  

No matter if you call it sea glass or beach glass, for the purposes of this article we are referring to smooth, frosted and attractive pieces of glass, found on our oceans or seas beaches. These pieces of glass are man-made glass products that have been polished and refined by the waves and currents of the ocean, that may have also been impacted by other natural occurrences. 

Natural Beach Glass Takes Years to Form

The naturally produced beach glass is not created overnight. It takes years to develop through tumbling and hydration.

Most of the beach glass that you find comes from broken glass from bottles, lamps, windows, or various knickknacks. It may be washed to sea, come from a shipwreck, or get tossed out.

The broken shards of glass eventually wash to the shore, where they are constantly tumbled by the waves, much like the small rocks and pebbles that wash to shore. In areas where the shore is rocky, the beach glass may have an unusual shape, such as triangular beach glass. On a sandy beach, the glass shards are more likely to be smooth.

Hydration is another process that affects the appearance of beach glass. The exposure to salt water strips the glass of its lime and soda contents, creating small pits in the glass and a frosty appearance.

If the beach glass is produced by fresh water instead of salt water, the glass may not have the frosty appearance or the pits. Instead, you ​find a smoother surface.

Different Types of Glass Produce Different Colors

When searching for beach glass, I came across a few different colors. Some of the glass was brown, green, or white. Glass containing these colors typically come from broken bottles or jars.

You may find  other colors of beach glass  That are typically harder to find, as they tend to come from less common objects.

For example, amber, aqua, and olive-green beach glass may come from cosmetic jars or medicine bottles. You may also find black, gray, pink, blue, or amethyst beach glass. These colors typically come from various types of knickknacks.

If you’re lucky, you may come across orange, red, or yellow beach glass. Glass with these colors often come from ship lanterns and are among the most difficult to find colors.

beach environment

Tips for Combing the Beach for Beach Glass

Now that you have an idea  what beach glass is, you may want to start your quest to find various pieces of this glass. Finding beach glass  is not always easy, especially when compared to searching for seashells or sand dollars.

The first step in searching for beach glass is to determine where you are most likely to find it. Some beaches will naturally contain more glass than others. This is mostly due to their proximity to landfills or dumps.

You can seek out  information about your local beaches or seek  out individuals who may have had success finding  beach glass and ask where the best locations are to start your search  

There are hundreds of sea glass beaches around the world, with several of them being located in or near the United States.  If you are looking for a few great places to take a vacation and do some sea glass hunting, we recommend you consider the following locations:

  • Kauai, Hawaii: This island has lush vegetation and is home to an amazing glass beach that has an abundance of small, smooth pieces of sea glass in an array of colors, such as, blue, acqa, brown, green and if you search real hard an occasional red.
  • Fort Bragg: Located in northern California, Fort Bragg has a glass beach that is covered with a variety of colors of glass.  The area at one time had an active dump and over time nature has transformed the waste into these pieces of glass. Some areas do not allow the glass to be removed, however there are locations that you can find plentiful and colorful pieces for you to scavenge.  Check with local authorities for appropriate areas to conduct your search.
  • Bermuda: If you are willing to travel a relatively small distance for a vacation, Bermuda is a location where a lot of bottles have been thrown overboard.  Combined with a rugged shoreline and exposure to hurricanes, shipwrecks and debri has resulted in a host of great selections of sea glass.   
  • Puerto Rico: Close in proximity to Bermuda is Puerto Rico and specifically the small island of Vieques.  Glass collectors will find broken bottles, dishes and other debri that has resulted in a wide variety of smooth, colorful pieces of glass waiting to be found by beach goers.

When venturing out to find  beach glass, you can follow many of the same tips used for collecting seashells. The best time to search for glass is during low tide. This is when the water is at its lowest  level, exposing more beach area and increasing the likelihood of finding glass near the shore.

You may also want to go after a storm. Storms typically serve to help bring in shells, glass, rocks, and other debris to the shore.

You should not need any special equipment or gear to search for beach glass. If it is finished glass, the edges should be round and not sharp. However, you may want to bring a shovel to search through sand and a filter or screen for sifting.

Stansport Gold Panning Classifier (605), Black, 13.1" L x 13.1" W x 3.35" H
  • Lightweight, durable plastic ⅜" mesh
  • Fits into 5 gallon bucket
  • Separates larger nuggets from smaller material
  • Allows small gravel, sand, and smaller gold pieces to pass to be panned

When walking along the shore, I also recommend that you face away from the sun. This may allow you to see the light glimmering off pieces of glass in the sand. Scan the shore for sparkles, which may indicate the presence of beach glass.

beach glass along the shoreline

Final Thoughts: How Is Beach Glass Formed? ​

Whether you call it beach glass or sea glass, it is an intriguing  material to search for and find. The glass comes from our waste. While some of the glass may come from shipwrecks or accidents, most of it likely comes from discarded glass waste thrown into the sea.After spending years tumbling around the water, the edges of the glass are rounded and smoothed. It also has a frosted appearance and is commonly used in jewelry and crafts.

Unfortunately, as you may have noted, the reality is that for beach glass to exist, humans have dumped or discarded items and all too often this waste and garbage ends up in our oceans.  It is easy to ignore or not pay attention to the fact that this is occurring but this could be to our own peril and detriment.  

If you are asking why this is a concern, you may want to take a look at the information contained in the following article: Why Is Ocean Conservation Important?  You may also want to explore further how to get involved in ocean conservation or how to protect our beaches or even how to organize a beach clean up event.  

If you want to find some of your own beach or sea glass, head to the beach​. Let us know in the comments section if you have any success and what gems you unearth during your search.