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Glass Half Full: New Orleans glass recycling turns bottles into sand

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How can you fight flooding where you live and recycle glass at the same time? In this short video from New Orleans, Louisiana, photojournalist Derek Waldrip shares how a handful of Tulane University students have created a glass recycling business. Called Glass Half Full, they transform glass into sand with the goal of fighting coastal erosion and flooding.

This article was created thanks to a topic request by a TKSST Member.

The project started as a trio of students setting up 20 drop-off spots around New Orleans so that locals can drop off their glass for free. It has transformed into a six-employee company with a network of a few hundred volunteers. Via Tulane University:

“’The problem facing the state is really profound,’ said [co-founder Max] Steitz. ‘We lose, on average, a football field’s worth of land – 100 yards – every 100 minutes. What’s better than taking something that is being thrown away by the truckload into our landfills, taking that and turning it into something that we can use to protect our coasts?'”

recycling glass

“…So far, Glass Half Full has diverted one million pounds of glass from the landfill. They turn that glass into sand and cullet. Ultimately, they plan to use the sand to help save the coast, but now it is being used for terrazzo flooring, sandbags, soil mixtures and sandblasting.

Meanwhile, [co-founder Franziska] Trautmann and Steitz are seeking city and state approval to use the sand to save Louisiana’s coast. Trautmann is using her chemical engineering background to work with Tulane professors to conduct experiments to research the glass’s toxicity.”

sifting sand from trash
Turning glass into sand for coastal areas has been discussed around the world for decades. Via Waste360 in 2005, glass sand products need to be tested for their geological, ecological, toxicological, and structural similarities to natural sand. For example, what if “the breeding habits of endangered sea turtles that nest seasonally on the county’s beaches might be affected by the glass”?

While University of Washington Professor and BioCycle Editorial Advisory Board member Sally Brown argues that the connection is a win-win, Ocean Conservancy scientist Dennis Heinemann cautions that “there always will be unforeseen consequences.”

In the meantime, other recycling programs also redirect cullet (crushed glass) into construction projects. New Zealand company DB Export Beer is also reducing beach sand extraction for industrial purposes with their machine that turns used beer and cider bottles into sand, and Warner, New Hampshire has been reusing ‘glassphalt’ in construction projects since 1989, generating “around 80 to 90 tons of material a year.”

glass to sand
Watch these recycling and reuse videos next on TKSST:
• Milly Zantow: Recycling Revolutionary
How trash is recycled, a field trip with LeVar Burton
• Recycling plastic waste to make bricks that are stronger than concrete
• Plastic Bottle Village
• Artist Cyrus Kabiru makes eyeglasses from trash
• Upcycling used chopsticks into furniture and more
• What is the Circular Economy?

Bonus: Glas, Bert Haanstra‘s Oscar-winning documentary short film (1959)

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