New Orleans Shows a Strong Affinity for Alcohol and Discovers a Lucrative Recycling Venture

The story begins with a heartfelt concern for the destiny of abandoned beer and wine bottles.

In early 2020, Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, both seniors at Tulane University in New Orleans, were brainstorming ideas to prevent their glass from ending up in the trash. Despite the city’s love for drinking, there was no curbside glass recycling available. As a result, most of the empty bottles consumed in the Crescent City were disposed of in landfills.

Trautmann and Steitz were not only frustrated but also saw a missed opportunity. They realized that the city’s wetlands were rapidly deteriorating and that glass could be transformed into sand. This led them to consider the idea of collecting glass from around town, crushing it into sand, and utilizing it effectively.

With the buoyant spirit of youth and fueled by enthusiastic crowdfunding, they made the decision to purchase a small glass pulverizer. Setting it up in the backyard of a friendly local fraternity, Zeta Psi, they were eager to start their recycling venture. To their surprise, the drop-off barrels quickly became overwhelmed with glass. Reflecting on this, Steitz, now 27, admitted, “We didn’t fully realize just how high the demand would be.”

Four years have passed since then, and Glass Half Full has emerged as the sole glass recycling facility in New Orleans. This endeavor has now become the founders’ primary occupation, employing a dedicated team of 15 individuals, and exceeding their initial expectations in terms of growth and impact.

Their operation has successfully processed 7 million pounds of glass for various purposes, including disaster-relief sandbags, terrazzo flooring, landscaping, wetland restoration, and research. Currently, they provide curbside pickups in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and they have also established a small facility in Birmingham, Alabama. With $4.5 million raised, the company is preparing to relocate to a new 3-acre site in St. Bernard Parish. This new location, which they will rent, will be equipped and built out to accommodate their expanding operations.

According to Trautmann, 26, Glass Half Full generated $1 million in revenues last year and managed to break even.

According to Scott DeFife, president of the Glass Packaging Institute, the profitability of glass recycling is influenced by various factors. These include the quality of the glass, its proximity to a recycling facility, and the way glass containers are collected. DeFife explains that when glass is mixed with other recyclables like paper and plastic, it becomes contaminated and harder to sort. As a result, its value decreases, leading to a decrease in the recycling of glass, despite its potential for endless recycling.

According to DeFife, the team at Glass Half Full is doing an exceptional job in their efforts. However, he also highlights the unfortunate reality that their existence is a clear indication of the flawed waste management system in the country.

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MBS Staff
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