Glass Half Full Helps Fill Disappearing Wetlands
Resolving two seemingly disconnected problems with a single solution is an efficient and elegant way to make progress – especially when both those problems are large-scale, difficult and highly impactful.
Such is the accomplishment of Glass Half Full, which collects recycled glass and grinds it into sand for a variety of uses, none of which is more important than helping combat coastal restoration.
This approach has existed as a concept for many years, but previous implementation attempts couldn’t find a business model that worked. Two Tulane seniors and a beverage have changed all that.
“I was enjoying a bottle of wine with my co-founder, Max Steitz, and we started thinking about where that bottle would end up,” recalled Franziska Trautmann, co-founder and CEO of Glass Half Full. “We knew the answer was a landfill.”
Trautmann, a Louisiana native who was completing her chemical engineering degree at the time, was well aware of coastal land loss issues as well as the many challenges relating to recycling and landfills. Unlike others who had pondered this equation previously, she and Steitz found a viable economic path to making the connection.
While the equipment to grind the glass into sands of various coarseness was available and affordable, the obstacle was always transportation costs: getting the glass to the processing location, and then the sand to its destinations. Glass Half Full solves the first part by charging residential and commercial customers to pick up their discarded bottles, which pays for bringing the glass to the grinding facility on Louisa Street. People can also drop off their glass, which removes the up-front transportation issue completely.
Further funding comes from grants from the National Science Foundation, co-administered with Tulane. A recent Amazon Business grant, one of fifteen awarded from among 19,000 applicants, adds to the operation’s sustainability. Glass Half Full is an L3C social business, a hybrid of an LLC and nonprofit organization that puts mission before profits, and allows for both contributions and investments.
Once the glass reaches the processing facility, it is ground up for a variety of applications. In addition to coastal restoration projects, the sand can be used for everything from filling sandbags to installing rain gardens. Remelted, it ends up as terrazzo flooring and countertops and even Mardi Gras beads.
The result, according to Trautmann, is that “tens of thousands of pounds of glass per week is being diverted from landfills.”
No use has greater potential impacts than replacing lost wetlands, and even making them stronger than before.
“The glass can be made coarser than natural coastal sand,” Trautmann explained, “which makes it more erosion-resistant and easier for plants to grow in. We have been experimenting with different nutrients, mixing the glass sand with native sediment, to enable growth.”
As for getting the sand out the door, smaller orders placed by everyone from landscapers to artists are picked up at the facility. For larger projects, delivery costs are built into the overall contract, again underwritten in part by grants. In one recent example cited by Trautmann, 20,000 pounds of glass sand was delivered for a Northshore restoration venture.
Early next year, Glass Half Full will be sending sand to a big project along Bayou Bienvenue, which has the advantage of being just ten minutes away from the processing plant.
“The delivery cost depends on the location,” said Trautmann, “but our goal is always to be competitive in the space.”
This objective is helped by eliminating the need to dredge and move coastal sand from one location to another, as is currently done for many restoration projects. Not only can this process be costly, it comes with its own negative environmental implications.
Glass Half Full is now in its third year of business, having expanded from a backyard operation to a modest Uptown facility to the current Louisa Street processing plant. Further growth is on the agenda: “Our goal is to be creating thirty million pounds of sand per year within five years,” Trautmann stated.
For a problem as large as restoring Louisiana’s wetlands, there is no single answer. While Trautmann realizes this, she is justifiably proud of the contributions of her company and her team.
“We see ourselves as one piece of the puzzle, one of many, many solutions,” she said. “But we believe that recycled glass sand is a key component to enhance coastal restoration.”
Information about glass drop-off and commercial and residential pick-up can be found on the Glass Half Full website, www.glasshalffullnola.org.