Recycled Glass: the dirty little secret

“My college professor told me I should be a painter. I like to think this is three dimensional painting.”

Think about this when you recycle that craft beer bottle

Every year, in the United States, 8 million tons of glass end up in the landfill. That’s enough to fill six empire state buildings. That’s in one year. Only 30% of glass is actually recycled. Common uses for recycled glass are gravel, filler for concrete, the friction-building aspect of a match-head, and reflective highway line paint. Thankfully it’s being used somewhere, but the rest of it is wasted because it’s perceived to be “inexpensive” to create so the demand to recycle it isn’t very high.

Fortunately for Charlottesville, and the world in general, one man has mastered a Small Act to repurpose your wine bottles and pickle jars into beautiful functional art. 

Bill Hess, after 25 plus years, opens the door to a world of tables and countertops crafted from 100% recycled container glass. These luminescent cutting surfaces, end tables, and probably most any table-like surface you can dream of, bring a local and human connection into homes and businesses. 

A table with a local, personal touch

A friend passed along the GVGBC luncheon email to me where Bill, the founder of Evolution Glass would be speaking. Anything with “recycled” in the title is going to pique my interest. Upon seeing the samples and hearing the story I was in awe of the Small Act he had transformed into a useful and viable product. 

“Every container someone touched and had a relationship with.” 

“It has a story.” I interject as we talk in the sitting area at the Evolution Glass Production Center.

“Someone drank their beer out of it, pulled their relish out of it, had their pasta. There’s all this sort of emotional noise that’s in it. And then to transform it into an object that carries that. It uses a ton of glass so that’s great for recycling and it has this emotional component because it’s made from containers.”

You could feasibly take him a pile of your own recycled containers and get a new coffee table a few weeks later. It would take approximately 500 normal sized beer bottles to create a 3 x 5 ft table. 

bitten by the glass bug

Bill has been on a journey to bring this artisan glass outside the image of its “object” for over two decades. He recalls a time in college imagining old window screens in the dumpster could be reused to make something new. He spent years transforming metal and glass into fantastical sculptures he sold at craft shows and local shops on the Downtown Mall. The physical aspects of ladling molten glass into a mold gave him a rush when he got “bitten by the glass bug” back in Seattle, WA more than fifteen years ago.

After countless hours of research and testing he finally figured out how to transform your every day container glass into a durable and beautiful functional piece of art. He couldn’t have done this without the help and enthusiasm of many community members here in Charlottesville. Wes Carter of The Albemarle Countertop Company was instrumental in the testing and “feasibility” piece of this Small Act invention. The duo appeared together on stage at the Tom Tom Founders Festival to pitch the idea earlier in the year and won 2nd place. He officially launched Evolution Glass in the summer of 2015.

Your trip to McIntire could be someone's end table

All the glass he uses is locally sourced from the McIntire Recycling Center. The glass is intercepted after it leaves McIntire, but before it is hauled down to the North Carolina facility. The majority of the glass used is clear glass, and is currently sorted by hand, crushed up, and then melted down to give your recycled containers a new story.

Aside from the benefit of recycling the glass, Bill wants to help the community think about these materials differently, another very important Small Act

“Glass is a largely overlooked commodity because it’s relatively benign in the landfill, but we don’t often take into account the energy that’s required to create the glass the first time,” he says, “Just because sand is plentiful doesn’t justify us going to dig it up every time we want to create more glass.”

The process used to create these glass countertops and tables from 100% recycled glass uses about 50% less energy than creating glass the first time. Recycling just one glass container can save enough energy to power a 100watt lightbulb for four hours.

His passion for glass, and specifically these waste containers, arises from the transformation of what once was into something entirely new, shiny, and pristine.

“There’s just something about taking crushed up stuff that was something someone used up, and then make something precious out of it that gets me going.”

RECYCLING GLASS IS ALWAYS A SMALL ACT THAT COUNTS

It's important to recycle glass even if most of it still ends up in the landfill. In the landfill it is used as a filler and doesn't leech chemicals into the earth like plastic, so choose glass over plastic as another easy Small Act. However, recycling it properly ensures it has a chance to become something new. 

Also, supporting small businesses like Evolution Glass means that the recycled glass gets used in an intentional way to bring beauty, art, and energy to someone's life. Support companies that want to clean up our planet.

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