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RECYCLED GLASS

Recycling glass from oceans and waste streams is challenging, yet a growing number of artists don’t mind collecting their materials that way. Glass designers tell me that much of their clientele specify that the recycled products be authentic. Some artists who were initially and solely attracted to the worn shapes of submerged glass unintentionally discovered that being truly recycled is very important to environmental, green consumers.

Green consciousness or not, recycled glass makes lovely art. Independent designers typically specialize in jewelry, but during recent research I discovered glass landscape art. That is hand-blown recycled glass made into a unique selection of sculptures in exclusive shapes of globes, garden stakes, floras and bird feeders. No matter what the weather, these decorative pieces can endure. They can unpretentiously pull your garden, patio or home decor together.

Sometimes these artists free-lance their work for other companies. Going commercial can be fun and profitable for both designers and manufacturers. After all, much pride is revealed in the reuse of discarded materials to form beautiful items. While patrons have sought uniformity in the past, one-of-a-kind creations, which are typical with recycled glass, are the style of choice today. Reportedly, such dinnerware is preferred amongst entertaining celebrities and used for movie sets.

Artists are going a step further with recycled blown glass by hand painting their one-of-a-kind creations. You can find such options in coasters, sun-catchers, tiles, rosette blocks, drawer pulls, vases, candle holders, table lamps, and bowls in assorted sizes. Indeed, every piece and design is an original.

Specializing in trash beautification. What a lovely company motto! Such manufacturers take their work very seriously. Some can provide certification that the glass is composed entirely of 100 percent post-consumer and/or post-industrial glass. It is completely benign (no free silica in the glass so it will not aggravate respiratory conditions or cause silicosis). Polymers or synthetic additives are not used, so there are no VOC chemicals to off gas. And the finished products are stronger than ceramics, yet requiring less energy to produce. Finally, the glass can be re-ground and recycled again.

It all sounds so easy, yet research and development has had many obstacles. But with those obstacles came some nice surprises. One company explained how something new was formed in the kiln overnight. It resembled frozen water droplets and was absolutely stunning. Everyone within the company who saw the glass instantly loved it. The sample was first observed by designers and architects in a trade show where the glass was displayed as a desktop. Spectators expressed even more enthusiasm when they discovered that the glass (and the desk frame) was made entirely from recycled materials. The faculty saw they were onto something very good and received a flood of requests to make a variety of architectural and design-related items with the glass.

Economic development projects are into recycled glass too. One such business is nationally recognized for innovative recycling programs. They started with window pane glass from landfills and then added pop bottles, jars, etc. they acquired from a local recycler. Creative financing with grants from assorted foundations helped fund the development of the business. Their profits assist homeless and low income people through emergency services, housing, jobs, training and other charitable endeavors. How nice! Not only do they wholesale, (with offerings in national catalogs) they now have their own gift shop on site.

My research unfolded many fascinating stories about how each recycling glass business began. One of which entailed two entrepreneurs who hold a worldwide patent on the unique conversion process they invented. Their recycling phenomenon started in South Africa in 1992 with humble beginnings.

Today the International corporation converts empty, discarded bottles into elegant glassware. They are adding a North American manufacturing facility in Central Wisconsin. The magical essence of their products is delighting trend-setting consumers and corporate brand managers from Los Angeles to New York. Currently it manufactures about 25,000 goblets, tumblers and drinking glasses each month at its production facilities outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The new location is being equipped with state-of-the-art machinery. They will have the capacity to produce over 200,000 glasses a month, all through the inversion of reused bottles.

The idea began by turning a wine bottle upside down, removing the base and reattaching it to the neck. The voila, a drinking glass! And with the striking colors and shapes of many glass bottles, the result could be unique stem ware that combines environmental consciousness with exquisite style.

Bursting with excitement, the two inventors originally planned to simply make enough money to fill up a Land Rover for a trip to Mozambique. But the idea of converting bottles into glassware took hold quickly and the first experiments weren’t exactly what could be called a smashing success. The lip of each glass had to be smoothed and the base had to be permanently joined in the stem without shattering the bottle. It was a technical nightmare. Literally thousands of bottles were smashed in attempting to develop a prototype.

It took eight months to produce the first glass. The challenge of joining the base to the stem had big glass companies perplexed. But the entrepreneurs eventually developed a successful bonding technique on their own and applied for a worldwide patent as soon as they were sure it would work. The secret now looks likely to be worth millions.

These guys started with a $100 investment each. They collected bottles and constructed glasses during the week, then took them to Johannesburg to sell on the weekends. They used the proceeds to buy more materials and make more glasses. They won the coveted Business of the Year award in 1994 and were voted one of the four best new businesses in South Africa. The products were endorsed by the Endangered Wildlife Trust, with a portion of the proceeds from each sale going to the cause.

The company went from handling 12 bottles a day to one every 10 seconds. Even with state-of-the-art equipment, they had trouble keeping up with the demand for their products. They believe the popularity of the glasses has grown consistently because the concept was perfectly timed and in tune with growing environmental concerns. Wine producers jumped at the idea of having their own bottles refashioned into wine goblets decorated with their logos. Next came champagne glasses, sherry glasses, beer tumblers, juice glasses, water glasses and a variety of other products. They make glasses in clear or frosted finishes and in an assortment of colors.

With the popularity of recycled glass continuing to spread through collectors, consumers and corporations around the world, I don’t envision the industry tapering off any time soon. Developing countries are continuously legislating stricter recycling controls.

Here in the U.S. we’re off to a good start in supporting recycled glass and the designers who inspire us with their beautiful creations. The next time you’re about to throw glass into your trash, be sure it goes into a recycle bin instead. Or perhaps you’ll want to experiment with your own creative style?

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