KC glass recycling effort spreads across 5 states

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The demand for crushed glass is so high a small glass recycling project begun in Kansas City in 2009 has grown to a business that crushes about 20,000 tons of glass a year, some shipped in from cities in five states.

The biggest challenge for Ripple Glass is finding enough bottles and jars to supply the demand for a crushed glass product called cullet, said Jeff Krum, an executive at Boulevard Brewing Co. and co-founder of Ripple Glass.

“We’re still alive and that’s exciting for us,” Krum said. “It’s all about volume. The demand for cullet is close to limitless.”

Besides the 80 collection bins it has throughout the Kansas City metro area, Ripple Glass is shipping in glass from more than a dozen cities in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Arkansas. In January, it began collecting glass from about 70 bars and restaurants in Kansas City’s urban core and is preparing to expand that effort into southern Johnson County, The Kansas City Star reported.

Springfield is sending 75 tons of recyclable glass a month to the Ripple Glass plant in Kansas City, said Barbara Lucks, interim sustainability officer for the city. Springfield had been “paying through the nose” to send glass to recycling facilities in Oklahoma and St. Louis, she said, but now it just calls Ripple Glass when it’s collected about 25 tons of glass.

“This has been a real shot in the arm for the whole region,” she said. “We had very stubbornly hung on to our glass recycling program. When I’m not charged anything, I can pass that savings along to outlying communities and get more of them involved.”

Chris Zegar, president of Recycling Enterprises in Lincoln, Neb., said that city sent 200 to 250 tons of glass a month to Ripple Glass.

“We’ve always had glass recycling, but it’s been difficult at times because of shipping and freight costs,” he said. “It’s been a lot more feasible with Ripple Glass. It’s definitely helped with the flow of materials.”

About half of the 20,000 tons of glass expected to be recycled this year at Ripple Glass will come from local residents. Another 45 percent will be from outside communities and the rest from the program with bars and restaurants. Since Ripple Glass began in November 2009, Krum estimated the percentage of potential recyclable glass collected in the Kansas City area had grown from 4 percent to 15 percent. The national average is 28 percent.

“In total, Kansas City generates about 80,000 tons of container glass waste each year, so you can see we still have a lot of room to grow locally, and still more regionally,” he said.

When Ripple Glass began, it created a self-contained metro system for glass recycling. The glass was collected locally, processed and crushed at the Ripple Glass plant. The cullet was hauled to the Owens-Corning plant in Kansas City, Kan., where it’s melted and spun into fiberglass insulation.

Ripple Glass started with an initial investment of $4.5 million, but another $1.5 million was needed for equipment to sort the brown or amber glass. The fiberglass plant could use cullet only if it contained less than 20 percent amber glass.

Ripple Glass found the Saint-Gobain plant in Tulsa, a beer-bottle manufacturing plant, to process the amber glass.

“The neat thing is the amber glass we’re sorting goes to the company that makes Boulevard beer bottles,” Krum said. “We’re no longer a closed loop in the metro, but a continuous loop that can be regional indefinitely.”

The venture’s cash flow is breaking even but Ripple Glass needs to increase the amount of glass it recycles by 30 to 40 percent before the books are balanced to include depreciation and equipment, Krum said.

Krum emphasized the entire program would not have been possible without Deffenbaugh Industries, which picks up the glass containers from the collection bins and hauls them to the Ripple Glass plant.

Ripple Glass said cities outside the immediate Kansas City area now participating in the program include: Springfield, St. Joseph, Jefferson City, Columbia and Rolla, Mo.; Lincoln, Neb.; Eureka Springs, Ark.; Iowa City and Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Topeka, Fort Leavenworth, Lawrence and Fort Riley, Kan.

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