Gulf of Mexico
Glass Half Full has a 40,000-square-foot glass collection and recycling facility. Credit: Glass Half Full

LA - Recycled Glass, Turned into Sand, Is Restoring Louisiana’s Shrinking Coastline

It’s just one example of how pulverized glass has become an upcycling hero, finding new purpose in landscaping, construction, even coastal restoration.

Most ideas that start over a bottle of wine don’t go anywhere, but this one is different. Two Tulane University seniors in New Orleans, Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, were drinking wine in their dorm when they started lamenting the fact that the bottle would end up in landfill after they threw it in the trash. Trautmann, whose father immigrated to the US from rural Germany before she was born, had visited his home country and observed that Germany had a nationwide glass recycling program. Louisiana didn’t.

“So we decided to be a part of the solution,” Trautmann says matter-of-factly via Zoom from her office in New Orleans.

With the moxie of youth, they simply started collecting glass bottles from fellow students and friends. After a local paper reported on their mission, the heaps of glass in their backyard grew so fast that they soon crowdfunded $18,000 for a professional machine to pulverize glass into sand. “That’s when we got really fired up,” Trautmann says, “because people obviously cared about this.”

Fast forward from their humble start in February 2020 to today, Steitz and Trautmann, both 25 years old, recycle about 100,000 pounds of glass every month at Glass Half Full Nola, a low-profit limited liability company whose primary purpose is to achieve a social benefit. So far, they have diverted 3.2 million pounds of glass from landfills with just eight employees.

They no longer collect the glass in their backyard, but have moved into a professional 40,000-square-foot facility in August 2020, with its own processing systems, forklifts and containers where the glass is sorted into different colors. Cooperating with a local glass blower and a jewelry designer, Andrew Barrows and Travis Laurendine, they started a jewelry shop, Nola Alchemy, that shows off the beauty of recycled glass that has been crafted into amulets and beads. “We’re essentially turning trash into treasures,” Trautmann says.

Much of the rest gets blasted into sand that can be used for landscaping and other purposes. “I didn’t even know at the beginning that the main component of glass is silica, essentially sand!” Trautmann says, shaking her head. “When a hurricane is forecasted, we give burlap bags filled with glass-sand to residents for flood protection.”

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