Trash to Treasure
This startup is diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of glass from our local landfills and turning it into a usable resource.
[We are] diverting hundreds of thousands of pounds of glass from our local landfills and turning it into a usable resource.
Franziska Trautmann, Glass Half Full
During the post-Hurricane Ida days and weeks, extensive trash pickup delays meant New Orleanians experienced a stark reminder of the need to reduce household waste and make trash collection and recycling easier.
Thankfully, there is one company that has already been taking action on this front. Launched in 2020 by Tulane graduates Max Steitz and Franziska Trautmann, Glass Half Full transforms what has become a regular household problem, glass waste products, into a solution that works to not only reduce trash, but one that also protects the coastline and produces sustainable consumer items as well.
The company’s founders have been so successful they were named the winners of the 2021 seventh annual Startup St. Bernard pitch competition this past September. The competition — presented by the Meraux Foundation and St. Bernard Economic Development Foundation — awarded the startup with nearly $100,000 in cash and in-kind services.
“It was so incredible to be recognized as the winner for Startup St. Bernard,” Trautmann said. “We have been bootstrapping our way to success through our crowdfunding campaigns. This was the largest amount of money we have ever received, and it is making a huge impact on our ability to scale up and continue to recycle. Additionally, this means we will likely move our operations to St. Bernard Parish. We are working with the Meraux Foundation on possible locations for our large-scale recycling plant. However, we will continue to provide drop-off locations throughout Orleans Parish and of course continue our pickup programs as well.”
Glass Half Full collects used glass at drop-off locations around the city, sorts the glass by color, removes any metal or plastic pieces, and then pulverizes and processes the glass into sand, glass cullet (broken glass pieces) and labels. Those are then bagged and sorted for future use, from industrial uses to commercial applications and even Mardi Gras throws and beads.
“Currently, we donate sandbags for floods, use sand in our research for coastal restoration, sell it to sandblasters, sell it to terrazzo flooring makers, sell it to landscapers and gardeners, and create new glass products,” Trautmann said. “Businesses can purchase it for commercial use in relatively small quantities for now (25-1,000 pounds). We are [also] currently producing the recycled glass beans for Bean Coin (by the Krewe of Red Beans). After the bean production is complete, we will shift our focus to producing Mardi Gras beads.”
Glass Half Full’s glass collection is a vital link in providing recycling services to New Orleans residents. According to the company’s website, “NOLA’s current glass collection program is inaccessible for most NOLA-residents, prohibits business drop-offs, and is not transparent. Industry-average is disposing of approximately 60-90% of what they receive in landfills, while our rate is just 2-5%.”
Coastal restoration and providing an easy solution for recycling as always been at the forefront of Glass Half Full since its inception, according to Trautmann.
“It started over a bottle of wine in college that we knew would end up in a landfill. We had grappled with the issue of not being able to recycle our glass throughout college, but never really knew what could be done about it until that night. We realized that we could crush up the glass into sand and use that as a resource, because who doesn’t need sand at some point? Then after pondering more, we kind of had a lightbulb moment: What if we could use the sand in coastal restoration projects? The rest is history,” she said.
In addition to landfill reduction, Glass Half Full points to the fact that sand extraction and production is a $70+ billion/year industry, and aims to bring this lucrative, growing field to New Orleans. The sand is ethically sourced and produced, provides green job opportunities and is sold 20% cheaper than industry-average pricing, making the product available to those in critical need.
Steitz, who studied international development and international relations, and Trautmann, who has a background in chemical engineering, have translated their studies into the recycling business full time. They head up a team of six employees and coordinate volunteers who assist with glass drop-off each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
“In engineering, I learned a lot about how to problem solve, which is extremely helpful now,” Trautmann said. “I also learned about process control and process design, which is helping me design our recycling process and determine ways it could be more efficient. Mostly, I gained incredible connections through the engineering department and currently work with multiple of my previous professors on coastal restoration research with our recycled glass sand.”
With that focus on coastal restoration, providing disaster relief and reducing landfill volumes, Glass Half Full is impacting efforts across the area now and for years to come.
“We have given away hundreds of sandbags ahead of major storms, undergone extensive research for using our sand in coastal restoration, and inspired hundreds of people to start recycling their glass,” said Trautmann. “Our future impact will be diverting multiple millions of pounds of glass from our landfills every single year. We will produce sand at a level that can make an impact on coastal projects in our state, and we will continue to provide sandbags for disaster relief. We also hope to continue to inspire folks to recycle their glass and think more critically about the waste they produce and where it ultimately ends up.”
Looking to the future, Trautmann is excited about expanding glass pickup, as well as developing a wait list for future commercial glass donations.
“We have mostly residential glass donations right now but are constantly expanding our commercial pickup program,” he said. “For drop-offs, we ask that only residents bring us their glass, as commercial clients usually have much more glass to bring and can cause issues for volunteers and employees. We hope to add more glass drop-off locations for folks to bring us their glass.”
Glass bottles and jars are 100% recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality.
Over a ton of natural resources is saved for every ton of glass recycled.
One ton of carbon dioxide is reduced for every 6 tons of recycled container glass used in the manufacturing process.
Manufacturers benefit from recycling in several ways. Glass recycling reduces emissions and consumption of raw materials, extends the life of plant equipment, such as furnaces, and saves energy.
Sources: Glass Packing Institute, Container Recycling Institute