Murano glass is famous worldwide for its long history of tradition, craftsmanship, and ancient customs that makes it unique all over the world. It is not only characteristic of the Venetian lagoon but is also at the center of the island’s economy. The glassworks are often family-run, each with its own Master Glassmaker, professional artisans in the production of products that stand out for their technique and signature.
These peculiarities obviously differentiate themselves from normal glass, the kind we use every day, from Murano products: although the basic ingredients are always the same, namely silica, sodium carbonate, calcium carbonate, and a few others, the production process and the final result are almost the opposite. On the one hand we have the large industries that produce objects in series, and on the other hand we have the small companies with exclusive products. However, this also means that Murano is based on a small-scale economy, fragile and sensitive to any swings in costs and changes in production.
For a long time now, glassmakers have had to deal with increasingly stringent European norms: arsenic, cadmium and other highly polluting or carcinogenic substances, used more than anything else to obtain particular colors, have been abolished over the years; in addition, scraps, that is, processing waste, are considered special waste to be taken to landfills outside the island with enormous transportation and disposal costs.
Glass is normally considered a permanent product, that is, 100% infinitely reusable even if its properties are altered. If treated properly, it can be remelted repeatedly, without the need to add raw materials. Murano glass, on the other hand, is only theoretically permanent. Indeed, in order to recycle it correctly, it would be necessary to divide it by color, like with bottles between transparent, green and brown; however, the artifacts have different shades fused together and it is possible to separate them. Each shade melts at a specific temperature, so you can’t melt the waste all together.
Glass thus becomes a disposable and unsustainable product, both for the economy and the environment. Murano therefore needs to reinvent itself, to take note of its limits and overcome them through innovative techniques. In any case, a look at the past never hurts: in ancient times, transparent glass (called crystal) was remelted, if kept pure, while the rest was broken to create pieces to be used in the creation of mosaics.
Testimonies of the sixteenth century report that Murano glass was a valuable product not only in its form of artistic artifact or practical object, such as a container, but also in its waste which was resold to reuse it in other products.
Therefore, it is not so difficult to imagine Murano glass in other forms; the aim is not to completely keep it pure and intact, but instead to offer it a second, and possibly third and fourth life, creating a sort of circular economy within the island and in dialogue with other industries, such as fashion. If it is not possible to obtain glass from glass, it is, however, relatively easy to use it in other functions without sending it to landfill: from art and design objects to bathroom and kitchen tiles.
In fact, in these cases there is no need to split colors or re-melt them, just add other materials such as ceramic, porcelain, or adhesives of your choice, and the new artifact is ready. Its primary characteristics are equal to those of the glass that becomes a raw material: unique, precious, and unrepeatable. Waste is largely reduced, but also costs and environmental impact are minimized.
In addition, in a particular social ecosystem such as Venice, this type of circular economy encourages dialogue between different companies that might never have met each other if it hadn’t been for the 700,000 tons of waste produced annually in Murano. The glass economy can therefore promote mobility for many companies and industries in the area and beyond, maintaining its own characteristics and acting on a small scale.
The rediscovery of Murano glass is still a young and evolving process, but during Venice Glass Week, the international festival that the city dedicates to the art of glassmaking held last September, some noteworthy projects were presented: first of all Murano Pixel, an initiative involving the Venetian university of art, design, and architecture IUAV, together with glass companies in the area, with the aim of transforming glass into new objects; but also VERO2, which aims to use pulverized waste to produce objects using 3D printers thanks to special technologies.
Therefore, Murano has once again shown itself capable of overcoming its limits, towards an economy with low environmental impact but which maintains the essence of the product.
The basic ingredients of Murano Glass are silica, sand that becomes liquid at high temperatures and soda, which allows the material to melt at lower temperatures.
Murano glass is a recyclable material – it can be remelted and modelled infinitely without compromising its properties, making it one of the most important raw materials.
When combined with other substances, colourless glass paste can give life to countless shades and nuances.
Within the Venetian glass industry, the preparation of colours is a sacred practice: each master glassmaker jealously guards his recipe book, revealing its contents only to people he is sure he can trust.