Resource Recycling News

Experts recap rise of glass-processing effort

The creation of a major glass-processing program in the nation’s heartland started with a frank conversation at a beer tasting. Now it’s arguably the most successful venture of its kind.

Owens Corning staff members were tasting beers at Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing and started talking with management about the dearth of glass recycling in the area.

Boulevard Brewing was concerned because most of the 10 million bottles it sold each year were destined for landfills. Owens Corning wanted recovered glass for use in its residential and commercial building insulation.

“We both said, ‘Yeah, let’s stop treating this like garbage and let’s get it out of the landfill,'” recalled Scott Colangelo, senior technical staff member at Owens Corning.

That talk led to the 2009 creation of Ripple Glass by a team including Boulevard Brewing. Ripple soon inked a deal with Owens Corning and today sends the majority of its processed material to the local Owens Corning facility, 10 miles away.

Colangelo was one of three speakers participating in a Container Recycling Institute webinar about Ripple Glass’ formation and how its creation can inform glass programs elsewhere. Colangelo was joined by Matt Riggs, outreach coordinator for the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), and Michelle Goth, regional business manager at Ripple Glass. They explored topics including best practices for glass collection, processing technologies and end users.

Birthed by a brewery

Started by Boulevard Brewing with the support of businesses, private investors and government grants, Kansas City-based Ripple Glass processes about 35,000 tons of glass per year, Goth said.

Riggs’ regional planning body, MARC, provided money to help get glass recycling off the ground. It provided multiple grants over the years totaling about $450,000. The money went to study the feasibility of a glass-recycling program and to fund outreach and the purchase of dozens of roll-off containers for use as collection points, Riggs said.

About 5 percent of what Ripple Glass needed to get off the ground was from the government grants, Goth said. The feasibility study, in particular, may have been particularly difficult to fund otherwise.

“When it comes to funding itself, we were successful in getting quite a bit of private investment, so it was a smaller portion of what we needed,” she said.

With a population of around 2 million people, the Kansas City metro area lies in both Kansas and Missouri, neither of which has a container deposit system.

Much discussion in the webinar revolved about the best collection approaches for glass.

Today, Ripple Glass owns roughly 100 roll-off containers through the Kansas City area. It’s a collection approach that generates a clean stream, although “some people joke with me that our drop-off programs are old fashioned,” Goth said.

The company contracts with hauler Deffenbaugh Industries to transport material to the East Kansas City processing center. To fill containers regularly, Ripple Glass needs one of its depots for every 20,000 residents, Goth said, and the company utilizes retail store parking lots, particularly grocery and liquor stores. Containers fill more often in areas with higher incomes and education levels, but Ripple Glass aims to ensure no Kansas City resident has to drive more than five minutes to reach a depot, she said.

The company also collects material from outside the metro area. To avoid the high cost of trucking roll-off containers long distances, the material is stored at local bunkers.

Curbside future?

Local depot collections have plateaued, with about one in five Kansas City residents participating, so Ripple Glass is interested in increasing curbside collections, Goth said.

Riggs noted that a few small companies have begun providing curbside collection services, but they serve relatively few customers in mostly high-income neighborhoods.

“Although it’s a good thing and it’s a workable business model, I think the scale is going to be somewhat limited,” he said.

In 1996, Deffenbaugh Industries switched to single-stream recycling and halted curbside glass collection, which had been plagued by high contamination levels and high transportation costs, Riggs said. That left the metro area with only a handful of drop-off locations and a roughly 5 percent recovery rate.

In the next few months, Deffenbaugh plans to start a curbside pilot program using glass-only carts, Goth said.

On the processing end, Ripple Glass’s $5 million facility uses magnets, vacuums, manual separation and optical sortation to sort and clean the stream before generating cullet for manufacturers. About 10 percent of the cullet is sent to Ardagh Group facilities to be made into beer bottles, and the remainder goes to Owens Corning for use in insulation, Goth said.

“Because of its relatively low market value, it has to be handled regionally,” she said.

Having a local supply of glass lowers Owens Corning’s transportation costs, Colangelo said, and using cullet means lower energy costs.

Glass recycling is “a low-margin endeavor” but Ripple Glass positioned itself to be “in a good place” financially, Goth said. The company’s threshold for generating enough revenue to pay expenses without having to dip into cash reserves was somewhere in the mid-20,000-tons range, Goth said.

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