People may open a wine bottle to celebrate a work win. But for co-founders and recent Tulane University graduates Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, a shared bottle of wine sparked an entirely new business concept, aptly named Glass Half Full.
The two were frustrated that the bottle of wine they were enjoying one night could not be easily recycled anywhere in the city of New Orleans. In fact, the closest glass recycling center was hundreds of miles away. So the two decided to take matters into their own hands…and in turn are rethinking the entire life cycle of glass bottles.
The problem they are solving in New Orleans is two-fold. Residents don’t have an easy way to recycle glass and the city as a whole is constantly fighting coastal erosion challenges. Glass Half Full addresses both of these with its collection services and recycling facility.
On the consumer side, New Orleans residents, restaurants, and businesses sign up to join a bottle pick-up program or drop off empty bottles at their facilities. Glass is loaded onto a large conveyor belt where it is crushed and turned back into cullets, sand, and other needed products.
This creates rounded sediment particles and removes all sharp edges. During this crushing process, labels, corks, and other non-glass pieces are removed, leaving a mixture of sand and gravel that is sorted based on size.
“It ranges from a very fine powder, like sand, all the way up to gravel-sized material. And the size will determine what we use it for,” Trautmann told Hypepotamus. The finer powder is good for sandblasting, disaster relief efforts, and coastal restoration projects because of its absorbent nature. The gravel is better used in landscaping, water management, and cooling project, Trautmann added.
Currently, Glass Half Full’s operations can process 3,000 pounds of glass per hour.
The team has amassed 1,300 residential customers to date and employs 10 people at its New Orleans recycling facility, the vast majority of whom work on the operation side.
SAND IN THE SOUTHEAST
New Orleans isn’t the only big American city with a glass recycling problem. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that less than 32% of all glass ends up getting recycled, despite the fact that it is a 100% recyclable material. But the US struggles to improve glass recycling due to differences in government policy and consumer habits, according to a survey conducted by the Glass Manufacturing Industry Council (GMIC) in 2019.
The Southeast has its own unique geographic problems and reason for needing startups like Glass Half Full. Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas are some of the states with the most miles of coastline, making the South prime territory to grow innovative coastal restoration businesses.
This year alone The Glass Half Full team has partnered with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service to repair Hurricane-inflicted areas and worked with the Point-Au-Chien Tribe on its first official demonstration of how its coastal restoration work can be implemented.
Through its work and research, Glass Half Full has shown its product is safe for Louisiana restoration projects. The team is now looking into how their program can be implemented in other states and coastal communities that don’t currently have glass recycling options.
Trautmann added that the team will likely be looking to raise capital in the near future in order to scale their efforts.