Story at a glance

  • New Orleans is extremely vulnerable to climate change, and extreme weather events are chipping away at its coastline.
  • A new effort is recycling glass bottles in the city to turn them into sand.
  • The sand can then be used for coastal restoration, disaster relief, eco-construction and new glass products.

What do you do when you’re at a party and you’ve finished a glass of beer but there is no recycling. Throw it away? Take it home to recycle? 

If you’re a group of seniors at Tulane University, you might look at the glass half full and start your own grassroots glass recycling program. Now, what started as a backyard project has become Glass Half Full, a glass recycling program that collects glass and turns it into sand for use in coastal restoration, disaster relief, eco-construction and new glass products.


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“We always hear, ‘Oh, we can’t do anything about climate change. We can’t do anything about the environment. It’s all the big companies [and] the government. It’s up to them,’” Franziska Trautmann told the Guardian. “But when you collect glass over one year, you’re like, ‘Oh shit. Individuals can do something.’ All those little things add up to something much bigger.”

As a coastal city, New Orleans is on the front lines of the climate change crisis, and sea levels are already rising faster than predicted. Long susceptible to extreme weather, including tropical storms and hurricanes, the city is one of the most vulnerable cities in the United States, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The sad part is that oftentimes the work that we do is just washed away again,” Trautmann told The Guardian.

Lucky enough, New Orleans's famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) drinking culture provides for a near-constant supply of glass bottles. 


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In addition to recycling glass and producing sand, the initiative is also dedicated towards educating locals and engaging them in the effort. The state is one of the worst ranked for waste management and eco-friendly behaviors, and the organizers acknowledge that they can't succeed without the cooperation of the community.

A GoFundMe fundraiser has already raised more than $67,000, more than halfway to their $100,000 goal, in order to "modernize and scale up our operational capacity and create the first crowd-funded, sustainable glass recycling, and processing facility in the world.”

Right now, volunteers sort bottles, shred cardboard and transport tens of thousands of pounds of glass between facilities all by hand, but the end goal is to automate the process, according to the organizers. 

“We’ve done the legwork to show you that this works,” Trautmann told The Guardian. “Now you get to implement it and make it happen.”


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Published on Apr 16, 2021