LJWorld Green

Where are your bottles going? Look inside the Ripple Glass recycling process

April 16, 2012


Ripple Glass recycling locations in Lawrence

  • Dillons, Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive
  • Hy-Vee, Clinton Parkway and Kasold Drive
  • Hy-Vee, Sixth Street and Monterey Way
  • On The Rocks, 1818 Mass.

Beer and wine bottles and the occasional Ragu jar fill the purple Ripple Glass recycling bin in the parking lot of On the Rocks Liquor, 1818 Mass. It hasn’t been there long, but folks have taken notice — and it fills up quickly.

“At this point, it’s definitely the most popular,” said Donna Utter, director of business development at Ripple Glass. With beer bottles, empty handles of liquor and pasta jars, there’s a little bit of everything.

The city of Lawrence began a partnership with Ripple Glass in Kansas City about two months ago. There’s no doubt the bins are a hit.

Michelle Gundy, field supervisor with the city’s waste reduction and recycling division, said she has worked for the city for 15 years and people have always commented on wanting more opportunities for glass recycling.

Within three weeks, 25 tons of glass had been accumulated at the four Lawrence locations. Gundy said another load would be picked up soon.

Ripple Glass has been around for about two years and is the brainchild of the leaders at Boulevard Brewery. Before, Kansas City lacked a reliable glass-recycling program. The metro area now has 90 drop-off centers, but the Ripple Glass plant can still process more glass.

“They can do more than what we were collecting here in town, so we stretched out to places like Lawrence,” Utter said.

There are four locations in Lawrence. However, Ripple Glass’s footprint stretches across the Midwest. It also has drop-off centers in Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska. Ripple Glass also recycles commercial glass from restaurants, bars or casinos.

She said recycling glass has a handful of benefits, Utter said, namely that glass doesn’t degrade as it’s recycled.

“You recycle a ton of glass bottles, you get a ton of bottles,” she said. “There’s nothing lost.”

Currently, the company recycles enough glass to make 100 million new Boulevard Brewery beer bottles. In fact, 10 percent of the glass collected by Ripple Glass does get made into Boulevard bottles.

The other 90 percent travels down an alley and around the corner from the Ripple Glass plant to Owens Corning. Owens then makes fiberglass insulation out of it.

How it works

There are a few steps between getting glass from the beer bottle in your fridge to the insulation in your house.

Here’s a step-by-step of how it happens.

  • Consumers drop off empty bottles, jars or other glass at one of the bright purple Ripple Glass bins. There are some things Ripple doesn’t accept, though. This includes mirrors, Pyrex, CorningWare, coffee mugs and pottery.
  • Collected glass is picked up and is transported to the Ripple Glass plant in Kansas City, Mo. Piles and piles of glass waiting to be recycled sit outside. Many of the bottles and jars are still whole — but not for long. Drew McDonald, one of the company’s five employees, will spread the glass out across the cement for the first sorting process. Plastic bags, boxes and other items that don’t belong with the glass are removed. “There’s a significant amount of it, and it just helps the next step,” Utter said.
  • He then loads the glass into a silo using the wheel loader.
  • The glass moves up a conveyer belt and into the second story of the plant, and another employee watches the glass move along the belt and removes “true contaminants,” such as ceramics or porcelain. These items have characteristics so similar to glass that the machinery won’t realize it’s nonglass.
  • From here, the process is mostly mechanical. Two rolling metal cylinders then break the glass. Breaking the glass helps pop off lids, remove any trash like lemons or napkins that are left in the bottles and loosens labels. Then with a little help from gravity, the glass shards fall to the first floor for the rest of the process.
  • The glass travels through an optical sensor and is sorted further. The sensor can detect the color of the glass. Ten percent of the amber-colored glass shards are sorted out. They will later be shipped to Saint-Gobain Containers in Sapulpa, Okla., to be made into bottles for Boulevard Brewing Company.
  • The other 90 percent of the glass continues on and goes into the first grinder. Glass shards are ground down into the size of Tic Tac mints. This further loosens labels and other contaminants. A vacuum removes leftover paper particles. The glass cullet is no longer sharp.
  • The cullets then travel through a second grinder, which reduces it to the size of sand. The fancy term for the material is now “three-mix, fine grind, furnace-ready cullet.” This means its made of three colors of glass and is ready to be made into fiberglass. The cullet travels on a conveyer outside and into a purple silo.
  • Belly dump trucks are filled 20 tons of cullet and drive down the alley and around the corner to Owens Corning, about 10 miles away. The trucks usually make three to four trips a day.
  • At Owens, the cullet is misted into a furnace where it’s liquefied. It’s then spun out like cotton candy and into fiberglass.


Alceste 6 years, 2 months ago

Daddy always said "Follow the money, son."

Ok....fine: The "junk glass" is GIVEN to this company. How much money do they get when it's all said and done from whatever company(ies) they, in turn, sell this "recylcled" glass to?

Alceste knows some of the stuff is turned into "blow in insulation". The rest?

The bottom line is that the state of Kansas needs to charge a DEPOSIT on ALL glass and plastic containers. Wonder why they're so few "spent" aluminum cans floating around? Answer: There is money in collecting the trash cans and turning them in for $$$. Of course, the City of Lawrence is trying its level best to inhibit this process by going after a mom and pop operation of recycling right here in River City...but that's another issue:

If the State took on it's responsibility (never going to happen with a guy like Brownback in Cedar Crest); charged a deposit; and, hence, created a real incentive to turn in plastic and glass, several sets of problems would be semi "solved". It ain't the City of Lawrence's responsibility or obligation to compel recyling: It's a STATE matter.

Then again, how many kids are going to go around and do stoop labor, "searching" for the stuff.... to make an honest dime? I fondly remember going about town and picking up soda pop bottles and taking them to Rusty's or Dillon's and getting a hard nickle for each and every bottle.

I guess the problem is more involved than simple recycling .......parents ain't teaching their kids about the value of a nickle....let alone a dime. How many kids, these days, go around asking if they can mow your lawn or rake your leaves or shovel snow off your sidewalk?

We've become a "community" of losers.....bowling alone as it were. "Social capital" centering around what's best for "me"....and not "us". Oh well.....next.....

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

A deposit is a fine idea, but all that does is create a greater incentive to not throw them in a landfill.

But once they are collected, something needs to be done with them. The reason aluminum gets recycled at such a high rate is because it's extremely expensive to mine bauxite and then extract the aluminum from it, and the discarded cans are lightweight and easily crushed and transported. It's nowhere near as expensive to turn sand into new glass-- it's just as cheap or cheaper to make new bottles as it is to transport heavy glass glass bottles and then clean and sanitize them for re-use.

So even if there is a deposit, any recycled glass would still likely end up being reused the same ways that Ripple is doing right now.

iLikelawrence 6 years, 2 months ago

This article would make a great video article if the LJworld would do something like that for the website. Would love to see the process.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 2 months ago

One man's trash is another man's treasure. I also will happily give away my recyclables to anyone who does indeed recycle them.

Tim Quest 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes, we get it. Boulevard benefits. Shut up. If you have a problem with it, don't use the service or use their products. More beer for me.

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

Where the money goes? I love recycling glass goes to make jobs and manufacturing American products. I would follow that donation to the factories every day. Driving behind a trash truck to Jefferson county not so much fun. If investing in alternative disposal options ends up making real jobs, i will dance on those purple containers. Well, I would dance in front of them. It is not only Lawrence's job to design their disposal for the age we live in but for the future. I would love a deposit on containers, but yes it is Lawrence's job, plus each person, each state and the nations.

naturalist 6 years, 2 months ago

I wish they'd put some of those bins in the alleys downtown. All the bars throw their bottles away. A HUGE waste.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 2 months ago

It's been reported that the city is looking at ways to address that.

Reuben Turner 6 years, 2 months ago

well i be.... pretty neat. i would love to see this process done

matahari 6 years, 2 months ago

So, you have to thoroughly wash inside and out of all spent beer and liquor bottles so you don't take a chance of being pulled over and get an open container charge/ticket? How do curbside recyclers get around this?

pace 6 years, 2 months ago

I just turn them upside down to empty them. I saw nothing in the article about prewashing. I might of missed a previous article. I am pretty sure, just empty is fine.

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