New metro-wide glass recycling venture finds success
The Ripple Glass recycling plant in Kansas City, Mo., is a minefield of dust.
Even the desk of executive director Stacia Stelk, whose enclosed office is several feet away from the huge, noisy contraption that turns glass and beer bottles into glass particles fine enough to be used in fiberglass, is covered in dust — the kind that won’t stay away for long even with a proper dusting.
But it’s all for a good cause, Stelk says. “Glass recycling is taking off in KC” is a statement the newly born company is trying to turn into more than just its slogan.
“Prior to Ripple Glass, only 5 percent of the (the Kansas City metro area’s) glass was recycled,” Stelk said. “Since our launch, we have already seen an increase in the amount of glass collected for recycling. I expect glass recycling to continue to grow.”
The company opened in November 2009, sprung from the collective minds of some of the originators of the Boulevard Brewing Co., including president and founder John McDonald and chief financial officer Jeff Krum.
“They looked at the 10 million bottles that they put out in the community, and that was only a drop in the bucket compared to the 150 million of all glass that ends up in area landfills,” Stelk said. “So they felt they wanted to take responsibility for their product and help recycle all the other (bottles as well).”
Investors in Ripple include Boulevard Brewing Co. and UMB Bank.
Ripple Glass has placed recycling bins at more than 60 locations across the metro area, but dropping last weekend’s parties’ worth of beer bottles into one of the purple bins is only the beginning of the finely-tuned recycling process that takes place at the Ripple Glass plant.
Stelk said Deffenbaugh Industries drops off up to 20 tons of bottles each week at the plant, where the bottles are sorted, cleaned, de-labeled and crushed multiple times. All of the steps are done by a machine. The bottles are dropped into a large hopper, or funnel, then released through the machine’s extensive conveyor belt system until what’s left is only the fundamental components of the bottles: cullet, or processed glass particles tiny enough to look like sand. Dust created by the continuing process — and Stelk said the machine runs for about eight hours a day — is enough to cover the entire building with a light, but ever-clinging, layer.
The resulting cullet is purchased by Owens Corning and remanufactured into fiberglass used in home insulation. And a little goes a long way in glass recycling. A press release distributed last month by the company noted that just one six-pack of beer bottles was enough to fill an entire wall cavity in a standard home with fiberglass insulation.
Ripple’s efforts are beginning as the stars align, Stelk said.
“The timing is good because there is a heightened awareness of environmental issues right now,” Stelk said, noting the extremely positive feedback from people who have been participating thus far. “Even I was surprised at how excited people are to take their (glass for recycling).”
Currently the company only accepts residential glass beverage and food containers, not including dishes. Stelk said the next step would be for the company to place its focus on the lion’s share of glass waste in the metro.
“Our next step is to address bars and restaurants,” Stelk said, adding that 50 percent of glass waste alone comes from places where people go out to eat or drink.
Stelk said she was hopeful Ripple Glass would be able to target bars and restaurants in the Kansas City area by early summer. When it happens, the company will post on its Web site those establishments that are participating, she said.
To find a nearby recycling location is easy. Simply go to rippleglasskc.com and plug in your ZIP code to access a list of locations. In Shawnee, participating recycling locations include First National Bank of Olathe, 15100 W. 67th St., Splash Cove Aquatic Center, Johnson Drive and King, and the parking lot just west of Perceptive Software, 22701 W. 68th Terrace.