Collecting Beach Glass

Beach glass in waves on shore

By Joshua Nowicki

Like collecting fossils, stones and driftwood, searching Lake Michigan’s shoreline for beach glass is a relaxing hobby that beachgoers of every age can enjoy. Over the years, when I have been out taking photos along the lake, I would pick up the occasional piece of beach glass bring it home and put it in my ‘junk’ drawer. As the pile built up, I started to notice the differences in shape and color in my small collection. I also began to notice how beach glass had been incorporated in the decoration of friends’ homes and its prevalence in area shops as jewelry and mosaic. As a result, I have started actively searching for beach glass when walking from location to location taking photos along Lake Michigan.

What is beach glass?

Beach glass is broken shards of glass that have been smoothed as the result of years of tumbling and rubbing against rocks and sand in fresh water. It is very similar to sea glass which is created in salt water. Years ago, and to a lesser extent now, glass bottles, jars, glass construction material etc. were discarded into Lake Michigan or the adjoining waterways. After many years of tumbling around in Lake Michigan which acts like a giant rock tumbler the once sharp pieces are ground down, rounded, and take on a softer frosted look.

The color of beach glass is determined by its source. In Southwest Michigan, much of it started as bottles and jars. I really enjoy trying to determine what an interestingly shaped piece may have once been. The most common colors that I find are various shades of white, brown and light blue. To a lesser extent there is also green, dark blue, purple and very rarely red.

Where can I find it?

Personally, my favorite times of year to look for beach glass are spring and fall due to the shoreline frequently and dramatically being reshaped by the waves during storms. That being said, you can usually find beach glass throughout the entire year in Southwest Michigan.

Popular beaches are generally not good places to look. This is because there are more people who may be looking and also because these beaches are frequently groomed, thereby removing most of the stone and glass.

The best places to search are beaches near areas that have been populated for a long amount of time as there is a greater chance that glass has been disposed of in the area. I like to look for areas of the beach where small stones are washing up on shore, especially after a storm. The beach glass is often intermixed with the stones and you will have to train your eyes to discern the glass. These areas of stone often shift and change location depending on the direction and intensity of waves. A wonderful spot one day can totally disappear the next. White is usually the easiest to see as it contrasts well with the generally dark colored stone in Southwest Michigan. Conversely, I have to search harder to find brown.

For me the best time of day is either morning or evening. I find that the natural light highlights the glass and at times almost seems to make it glow among the duller colored stones.

While looking for glass, it is also common to find crinoids, and fragments of ceramic tiles, cups, plates, etc. On occasion, I even find small Petoskey stones, geodes, and coins.

Many collectors will leave or throw back glass that is not yet fully smoothed and will dispose of any that pose a safety hazard to walking on the beach. When I am out, I always carry a garbage bag with me to dispose of any sharp glass and garbage that I may find along the shore.

What should I do with it?

There are many possible ways to use the beach glass that you collect. You can fill decorative jars and bowls with the colorful glass to use as a home accent, make jewelry such as rings, earring, and pendants, create mosaics, glue magnets to them and stick them to your fridge or take photos of them like I enjoy doing.

When out looking for beach glass, take your time and enjoy the relaxing walk. It is a wonderful way to decompress after a busy week.

If you know of a great place to find beach glass please send me a message on facebook. 😉