Birth Glass, Seeding the Beaches

Piece of Blue "Planted" Seaglass

By Mary Beth Beuke

Like me, you may be a beachcomber and sea glass enthusiast. You may be familiar with that same briny, ocean smell I breathe when I open my beach bag after an excursion to the shore. You might understand that feeling one gets when digging through that bag of treasures. Your imagination begins to run away with salty tales of yesterday while looking through your finds. What creature once inhabited this shell? How many miles has this gnarled driftwood piece floated? What is the history of this piece of sea glass?

About ten years ago I received a passionate request from a seasoned sea glass collector regarding some unsettling discoveries showing up in her beach bag. She needed help and was hoping I could address the sea glass world and somehow put a halt to a new trend happening on her local beaches. She was noticing that “fresher” pieces of sea glass were beginning to show up on her favorite beach. The newer glass was different than the thousands of historic pieces she’d been finding for decades.

vase filler floral glass found on beach

I live and collect about a two-days drive further north on the Pacific coast from her. One of the beaches I used to frequent was also showing signs of “newer” sea glass. I’d hiked this particular stretch and trekked for miles along it. I’d done research and written articles about both beaches. I know the sea glass from both these sites and the nuances of each location and the sea glass quite well. This piece of planted sea glass was found on a beach I have frequented for many years. Everything about this out-of-place find suggests it was very recently pitched onto the beach.

It doesn’t hold the same historical significance as the other pieces, and it has not been on a lifetime journey like genuine sea glass. If it had been there tumbling for the same amount of time as the other pieces (60+ years), it would be smaller, smoother and more rounded. It also would not have been found there. A blue piece of this size on this beach would have been scooped up by a beachcomber long before I came along.

half dome sea glass vase filler

A few years ago a customer excitedly wrote to my company because he had found what he believed to be the piece of a lifetime: a perfectly smooth, flat on the bottom, half-domed oval piece. In addition, it was red! It was about 2cm long and flawless with uniform frosting. He wanted me to give him some history of his unforgettable find, and he told me what beach he had found it on. The quarter mile section of shoreline which he found it along only offers tiny (usually less than 1cm) pebbles of sea glass. I asked him to send me a photo of it. I was surprised that the photo showed it was a much larger piece than the other “tinies” that he’d found that day and it closely resembled a very modern gem that is commonly used for aquariums or floral arrangements. It is not something that had ever been found on the beach he referenced.

I identified the piece as one of the shiny, uniform-sized orbs that any modern-day shopper can pick up at the craft store; usually the pieces are bagged by color. I was honest with the customer and mentioned that I believed it to be a much more modern piece than what we usually see from the 60 plus years of historic dumping on his beach.

Interestingly, a couple weeks later I met a woman at an art show who stopped at my table and said, “Sea glass! My nephew, bless his heart, makes sea glass!” I informed her that genuine sea glass is quite old, formed naturally by an ocean or lake and found on beaches. “Yes,” she replied. “He pours glass craft pebbles and flower vase filler glass onto the beach for tourists. He recently put some red ones out there.” She then shared the location of the beach on which he’d planted these pebbles and coincidentally, it happened to be the same beach where our customer found his extremely uncommon, modern and pristine red orb.

The trend is often referred to as “planting sea glass.” It is not an unheard-of notion. Some concerned sea glass enthusiasts care enough about beach glass depletions that they’ve considered, or have even practiced, dumping fresh glass or bottles on beaches or just off-shore, with the hope that the glass will tumble shore-ward and become sea glass. A lot of people ask me what collectors will do when all the sea glass around the planet has been picked up. People share the idea of breaking bottles, hauling the pieces offshore so that we can have sea glass to collect 40 to 100 years from now.

Many people pitch their “uncooked” glass back into the sea or lake. This is not usually considered seeding. However, I know of a woman who dumped 300 marbles into the Pacific in 2012. Like the most fervent of sea glass hunters , these seeders point to a desire to find the pieces years down the road to add to their own collection, for their children to someday collect, or even for their grandchildren to enjoy the sea glass collecting experience someday. Though glass behaves as a fairly inert ingredient along rocky shores and in a saltwater environment, I remember feeling like this practice seemed like a step backward after how far we’ve come as a generation in regard to ecology and shoreline dumping.

The practice of glass planting is still debated, but the reality is: Disposing on otherwise historic sites, or any beach for that matter, creates quite a jumble of confusion for the historian, the sea glass collector, and the beach chair archeologist in each of us. And still, the larger truth is that it is illegal dumping, it is unsafe, and it does rearrange the ecosystem.

Most humans mean well. And most beachcombers have a strong connection to the earth’s bodies of water and shores, and feel an ownership and a connected- ness to the beaches; they believe in caring for our shorelines. I’m very comfortable stating that the planting and seeding of glass on our beaches is precisely contradictory to both the values of these fervent beachcombers, and to the historical “journey” of sea glass itself. Never again will we see the kind of relic and unique pieces as in the past on our beaches. The bottle glass, art glass, and tableware industries of the past 100-200 years are not likely to happen again, as it’s likely that shoreline dumping will continue to diminish around the globe as we become more ecologically conscious.

I know one collector who about ten years ago was regularly dumping intact bottles far offshore from a friend’s fishing boat. Happily, she has since changed her tune. She’s a perfect example of a beach glass devotee and former seeder who now suggests that we reconsider our motives; that it’s our responsibility to clean up the beaches as well as protect them from the practice of fresh, modern glass dumping, planting, and seeding.

My hope is that at the end of the day’s hunt, when we beachcombers open our treasure bags, that the glass we’ve discovered truly tells a narrative of history from decades and even centuries past.

Learn more about fake sea glass ›


Birth Glass: Any glass, new, old, broken or unbroken glass, that has been put out to the sea with the hopes of sea glass returns.

Seeding/Planting: Placing fresh, broken glass on a beach or just offshore to ensure an unending supply of sea glass. Generally, seeding and planting are synonymous.

Uncooked: An unofficial term often used to describe refuse glass, picked up from a beach that is not as frosted and ocean tumbled as the beach comber desires. Many people pitch their “uncooked” glass back into the sea or lake. This is not usually considered seeding. Sometimes referred to as a throwback.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine September 2017 issue.


I get the point here but shouldn’t the fresh glass that’s is put in the ocean work the same as 60 yr old glass. I am considering tossing a beautiful bright pink glass that just broke in to the ocean. Would make incredible sea glass someday

Sun March 27, 2024

All these people advocating fly tipping should all be fined and take 12 months in prison

Morgan Williams September 25, 2023

Seeding already-processed glass pebbles from craft stories seems a bit wasteful, not only of the finished product but of all the energy required to make it, ship it, & sell it when there’s already so much broken glass in the world that will end up in a landfill anyway. Glass is made from sand, and in many places crushed glass is used to help rebuild & stabilize eroding coastlines.

What I don’t like is the idea of dumping broken glass DIRECTLY onto a beach where it can hurt people easily. I don’t know if anyone has studied the time it takes for things to wash up on a beach depending on how far from the coast they start — but surely, dumping it at least a mile offshore would prevent it from reaching beaches before it had been worn down enough to be toe-safe.

Glasshead May 30, 2023

When I break a flowerpot, mug, etc. rather than put it in the garbage, destined for a landfill, I save it for a trip to the beach [worldwide] and chuck it in as I’m hunting well frosted pieces [and agates]. What I pick up got there in a similar manner.

Debby January 06, 2023

Sam dunford absolutely hit the nail on the head here.

Robert sanford May 15, 2022

“glass behaves as a fairly inert ingredient along rocky shores and in a saltwater environment”

You could’ve ended the article right there.

“it is unsafe,”

If the shards are sharp, I see your point. But the dangerous edges wear off fast. Heck, I find broken glass on the side of the road on dry land where the edges are already worn off! As long as it’s past the lowest tide line, it won’t be coming back until it’s no longer sharp. But marbles avoid the issue entirely, I don’t see how anyone could object to those!

“and it does rearrange the ecosystem.”

How so? As you said, it’s mostly an inert ingredient. (Except the soda lime leeching out, but that’s negligible, and would reduce ocean acidification if it wasn’t!) As far as wildlife is concerned, it’s just another rock. Unless one dumped in so much that it became a multi-percent fraction of the local seabed, (which would take a truly enormous amount, like a whole landfill’s worth), it would have less of an effect on the ecosystem that virtually any other human activity in the ocean.

“Never again will we see the kind of relic and unique pieces as in the past on our beaches. The bottle glass, art glass, and tableware industries of the past 100-200 years are not likely to happen again”

To be frank, you could summarize this as “I got mine, screw future generations.” Even though I’m sure that’s not what you intended.

“My hope is that at the end of the day’s hunt, when we beachcombers open our treasure bags, that the glass we’ve discovered truly tells a narrative of history from decades and even centuries past.”

I really don’t get the provenance argument. The vast majority of sea glass did not come from something exciting or romantic like a shipwreck. It was just garbage that was thrown away. Though sharp edges will wear off quickly, by the time seeded glass is well finished, it really will be from “decades and centuries past.” (Unless it was tumbled, sandblasted, acid etched, etc. to make it look older, which I do NOT support).

Why on earth is “it’s a gift from glassers of generations past” not considered good provenance? And seeding has been a thing longer than many people think. Probably as old as the hobby of hunting sea glass itself. I read one comment on another article about a woman whose grandfather used to throw bottles into the ocean with her decades ago (1960’s or 1970’s iirc), for the purpose of becoming sea glass. It was a treasured memory. If that’s not good provenance, nothing is.

If it helps you sleep at night, I hardly ever get the chance to go to the ocean, so it won’t be me who keeps the hobby alive for future generations. But I hope others will see that seeding isn’t the terrible destructive thing that these articles always say it is.

I’m all for protecting the oceans. But I think our energy would be better spent combating real problems like climate change, plastic, and the logging of old growth forests.

Sam Dunford January 18, 2021

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