Sometimes laying around watching Facebook videos for hours isn’t a big waste of time. As I scrolled through the life-chatter, up came a video of a New Zealand brewery that had built a machine that pulverized all its glass empties in a matter of seconds. Returned them back to sand from whence they had come, almost instantly. Not only was it a brilliant recycling method, but, wouldn’t you know, the world is running out of sand. Humans are using so much of it to make cement that the world’s beaches are literally being carted away.
When in the past I might have felt a sort of feckless rage at yet another man-made climate disaster in the making, this time I thought to myself, crushing glass is a no-brainer! Knowing very little about the mechanics of things, even I could see that this was a simple, low-impact machine, that could easily be affordable and in use by any entity that had heavy glass consumption. And it couldn’t be that expensive, in the grand scheme of things.
Enlisting a friend who knows a lot about the mechanics of things, it was mere minutes before we found a small machine being advertised for use on yachts, (makes sense that on yachts, space is not lavished on the garbage), which could reduce the space a glass bottle takes up to 1/10th its original volume. It cost under $5,000 shipped.
This was doable. This was an idea it would not be hard to get Silver City and its inhabitants to get behind. Lots of people were likely having similar thoughts in the wake of Silver City’s canceled recycling program. The recently opened Future Forge makerspace downtown seemed like just the place to find those like-minded folks, so I asked the former director, Nick Prince, could we house it at the Forge if we could get the town to chip in for a glass crushing machine? I was sure we could raise any money the town wasn’t willing to spend from people I knew. Of course he said, being an all around get it done kind of guy, and not only that, he pointed to a list of names scrawled on the wall, of people in town already working on glass and other recycling. Nick suggested they would certainly want to help.
I called the first two people on the list, Chris Lemme, owner of Best Brixx and Kelsey Patterson, owner of Revel.
Within a week we were sitting down together to discuss how to get it done. A week after that, we were sitting in Town Manager Alex Brown’s office, armed with specs for a bigger, better, industrial capacity machine, a list of uses and value added products that use sand, figures about land fill reduction, ideas for economic development, and a verbal commitment from the United Way of Southwest New Mexico to support the project financially.
Bureaucrats don’t have the best reputation. But we’d done our homework, the timing was right, and Mr. Brown is not your average bureaucrat. He had set aside some of the savings from switching the Town to a private waste hauler, to seed recycling projects just like this one. It seemed he was eager to appease the many angry folk who blamed him for eliminating recycling, when in fact it was a world-wide chain of events that actually rendered recycling dead. (Not that the practice had ever been as rosy as we had wanted to believe, as we dutifully maintained dual trash cans.)
We presented our materials and again, seemingly within moments, Mr. Brown proposed a plan. The Town would purchase the machine, and would lease it to our fledgling nonprofit, Silver City Recycles, which Chris Lemme had already been in the process of forming. The lease would require that all the pulverized glass would be given to the Town, for use in a myriad of Public Works projects: road beds, laying pipe, even at the Town owned golf course, for sand traps.
The pulverizer that the Town purchased was made by Contractor’s Inc., an outfit out of the Southeast (American Made!) It pulverizes 1 ton an hour, sorts the resulting product into two grades --a fine sand and a soft-edged gravel--and spits out the labels from it’s business end.
The humble, high powered green machine (it’s painted green) arrived on February 14, just three months after the idea sprang to mind. Clearly the idea had been percolating in the collective brain, and to see the speed with which things can get done when folks have a common goal. Our precious pulverizer has been placed on Stuart Egnal’s property adjacent to the Old Custom Steel forge, now home to Future Forge. Stuart graciously lent his property, which also houses a composting project.
Silver City Recycles is now in the process of obtaining 501 (c) 3 status as a nonprofit. It’s mission is not just to recycle and reduce waste deposited in landfills, but also to research resource conservation, educate the public about reductions in consumer waste, increase the demand for recycled products, innovate through the reuse and repurposing of waste materials and incubate businesses that do any of the above. Under its auspices, 5 trainees will receive a stipend to learn to operate it under the guidance of OSHA certified Stephen Lindsey, current Board Chair of the Future Forge. United Way of Southwest NM has provided funding for the training, as well as safety equipment, bins to sort and shuttle glass, and promotion.
Chris Lemme and others at Future Forge have begun to devise products that can be made from the sand and gravel, such as paving bricks for walkways/garden paths, etc. Silver City Recycles hopes to be a catalyst for entrepreneurs who have ideas for using recycled glass, and down the road, other recycled materials. Currently, Future Forge owns a plastic shredder, and an extruder.
Folks are already experimenting with options to combine materials to make value added products.
Alex Brown also recently greenlit the purchase of an adobe brick maker, through the guidance of Lee Gruber and Bridgette Johns of Southwest New Mexico ACT, the nonprofit that runs the Clay Festival, among other projects. The Town appears to be full steam ahead on seeing innovative forms of recycling come back to Silver City.
The SCR Facebook page has received over 200 requests to join in under two weeks. Willing partners in the recycling game are everywhere. If you are one of them, and you have an idea for other recycling methods, ideas for products, or would like to volunteer, please contact us through our Facebook group, Silver City Recycles, where we will post details about location and drop off times. The first public crushing session is slated for early this month. People will be able to drop off clean glass only, if you’re ambitious please have it pre sorted by color. If you are constitutionally incapable of cleaning out your empties, send your dirty glass directly to the landfill, Silver City Recycles will not accept it.
Ideas are the power that run the world. If you have one, don’t be afraid to share it. In a small town, you might be surprised how much you can get done.