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Heart of Glass

A man, a plan, a wall—and several tons of wine bottles. "Green" building comes to the backyard.

By David A. Fryxell / Photos by Lisa D. Fryxell

 

First, let me say this to all the people who've been bringing us empty wine bottles: Thank you very much. And now PLEASE STOP!

The wine bottles went inside a wall we were having built in our backyard—think of them as filler of a sort. Happily for us, our wall-building began about the same time that the Southwest Solid Waste Authority in Silver City ceased recycling glass as not cost-effective. So suddenly ecologically-minded wine drinkers all over town were eager to bring us bottles that otherwise would have simply gone into the trash. Between three similar outside-wall projects built this winter and spring by Doug Lacy (see main story), some 30 tons of glass were kept out of the landfill. Our comparatively modest 42-foot project consumed only a fraction of that; about 25 tons of bottles went into a massive, 140-feet-long, seven-and-a-half-feet-high wall that Lacy erected about the same time as ours.

The wine-bottle-filled wall in progress.

The influx of wine bottles continued for a few weeks after our wall was finished, however—sometimes left stealthily in our backyard by anonymous imbibing environmentalists. Evidently we weren't alone: "Everybody started bringing me wine bottles," says Lacy. "Hey, I'm just a guy with a cool building idea who's been able to show a viable way to use recyclable materials. Glass is a valuable thing."

Lacy's wall-building process starts with shaping the structure out of remesh wire, sometimes called "concrete steel." He's got a special machine that folds this welded wire into six- or 12-inch basket forms. The baskets are then used like building blocks to construct the basic skeleton of the wall.

Next, in our case, came the wine bottles. Lacy explains that he could have used any of a variety of possible materials as filler inside the remesh baskets, but of course glass bottles were a timely solution. "The bottles enhance the strength by adding more weight—in this case, a great deal more weight," he says, adding that for strictly outside construction it would also be okay to leave the walls hollow. For home construction, however, he'd fill the remesh with pumped-in cellular concrete.

We did our best to keep up with Lacy's construction team, obtaining bottles to fill the walls as they took shape. Pretty soon, Shevek & Mi and Diane's restaurants and the Twisted Vine wine bar were saving empty bottles for us, and the word went out via email to bring us your bottles, your empties, your huddled masses yearning to be recycled. We did our part, too, of course, soldiering our way through one wine bottle after another, heedless of the risk to our livers. (It's a tough job, but somebody had to do it.)

The only hitch in a large-scale application of this technique, Lacy adds, is the manual labor required to get the bottles to the wall. He envisions inventing a conveyor that could ferry recyclable materials right to a workman on the wall.

Once the bottles were in place, a shiny layer of metal lath reinforcement went over the top of the glass-filled baskets. Then the whole thing was covered in a high-strength, fiber-reinforced cement shell. By using very little water with the cement and ultra-fine micron-three fly ash, Lacy explains, the resulting cement is less porous and stronger. He likens the whole creation to the stress skin of an airplane wing.

Finally, after much debate about color, the finished wall was painted and we added the gate.

Now that our wall is done, what happens to all those wine bottles (not to mention other recyclable glass)? No, don't dump them on Lacy's doorstep. A local Recycling Advisory Committee is working with the solid waste authority to try to find economical glass-recycling solutions. Other possible alternatives include using crushed glass as a base for sidewalks and slabs and buying a glass crusher that can pulverize glass to particles as fine as sand that could be used for various commercial applications. For more information, call Ann Alexander at 534-9022 or Terry Timme at 534-4389 or email diannaterry@Juno.com.

 

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