As we lead up to the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, we will be featuring eco-conscious movements happening right here in Kansas City. Our Sustainability Showcase will outline how local efforts are making a difference in our community’s footprint and how you can get involved.

Welcome back to our second installment in this months’ Sustainability Showcase! This week, we will be focusing on two of “The 3 R’s”: Recycling and Reusing.

The universal symbol for “recycle”, created by Gary Dean Anderson in 1970

Growing up, we have always been taught “The 3 R’s,” a.k.a., Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. A big emphasis has been placed on recycling as a way people can make a huge impact in their eco-conscious lifestyle. Unfortunately, recycling is not the end-all solution to our highly consumeristic habits. In order for recycling to work, you need collection efforts, sorting lines made of human workers or complex machinery, and most importantly, actual recycling facilities. In the United States, less than 10% of plastics made were recycled in 2018 (Source: EPA). Plastic waste was either incinerated or dumped in landfill because, despite all the work put into collecting the recycling, there just aren’t enough recyclers available to turn old plastic into new products.

While this seems disheartening, it is not the case for all recyclable materials. Right here in Kansas City, innovative minds have created a recycling system for glass waste to keep this product from going the way of plastic, all while getting the community involved, creating jobs and cleaning up our city.

Meet Ripple Glass

Ripple glass was the result of Boulevard brewing company trying to prevent millions of pounds of glass from entering landfills. It was reported that in 2009 Kansas City residents were responsible for 150 million pounds of glass being dumped in landfills! (Source: Ripple Glass) But with no local glass recycler, what other choice did local businesses and residents have?

 Ripple Glass was created to not only collect glass in convenient drop off locations but to process all the collected glass before sending it off to be recycled. This includes cleaning the glass, removing debris and sorting by color.

Look for these purple bins around town for your glass drop-off!

Through a series of partnerships, the glass collected is 100% recycled, reducing energy costs and raw materials needed while creating new jobs and opportunities in our community. In KC, recycling efforts turn old household glass into fiberglass insulation, and a Tulsa business collects amber-colored glass to make new bottles, which Boulevard uses for their products!

This creates a closed-loop system, allowing the same glass to be used over and over again without needing as much raw material for glass products.

Some quick facts about glass

  • Glass is 100% recyclable.
  • There is no loss of purity or quality.
  • To create glass, a mixture of sand, soda ash, limestone, and crushed recycled glass, known as “cullet,” is melted at high temperatures.
  • The more cullet present in glass manufacturing, the lower the energy costs are needed to create a new, recycled product.
    • For every 10% cullet present in the mixture, energy costs are lowered by 2-3%. (Source: GPI )

Recycling can work, but only when the infrastructure is there to make it worthwhile. It also depends on what material is being recycled. For plastic, the quality is diminished, and a recycled product is usually inferior to the original. With the steep prices it requires to make the old into new, making new plastic will always be the cheaper and more likely route for manufacturers.

So as a KC resident, what can we do?

  • Try buying as much glass packaging as possible.
  • Save that glass and drop it off at Ripple Glass collection sites.
  • If you’re picking up litter, sort glass and recycle it.

Hats off to Ripple Glass for making waves of change in our community! Find the nearest bin to you here!

Check back later this week as we take a look at a business working to reduce waste through reusing craft scraps while also supporting underserved KC residents!