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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 other 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 drifting in the water.
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 may not be what you think it is. Some people assume that beach glass is a natural material created when lightning strikes the sand. That is a different occurrence.
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.
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 should determine if it is real beach glass or artificial.
Depending on who you talk to, beach glass may also refer to glass that is formed by fresh water, while sea glass is formed in salt water.
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, and 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 should get a smooth 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.
Apparently, there are many other colors out there. However, they are harder to find, as they 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 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.
Tips for Combing the Beach for Beach Glass
Now that you know what beach glass is, you may want to start searching for it. Finding this glass is not always easy, especially 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.
Look for information about your local beaches. Find out where people regularly go to find beach glass.
When searching for the 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 minimum level, increasing the likelihood of finding glass near the shore.
You may also want to go after a storm. The storm helps bring in shells, glass, rocks, and other debris.
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.
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.
How Is Beach Glass Formed? Beach Glass Is Made From Broken Glass
Whether you call it beach glass or sea glass, it is an interesting material. 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. If you want to find some of your own beach glass, head to the beach.
Megan Jones is the lead author of Seaside Planet. She is an avid surfer, scuba diver, and travel enthusiast who takes any opportunity she can to spend time in the ocean. You can learn more about Meg and the rest of the editorial team here.