Ripple Glass recycles over 1B pounds each year
Kansas City Business Journal
By: James Dornbrook
Founded in 2009, Kansas City-based Ripple Glass is on pace this year to surpass 1 billion pounds of glass recycled annually.
Ripple Glass collects glass that people voluntarily drop off in big purple bins placed around the metro area. The glass is sorted, cleaned and ground into a powdery substance called cullet, which has a low melting point. Glass products can be made more cheaply from cullet than virgin raw materials.
One billion pounds of glass is the equivalent weight of about 6,900 cars. Without Ripple Glass, that glass would be thrown into landfills and wasted. Americans throw away about 10 million metric tons of glass a year, or about 110 million glass bottles per day. Only about one-third gets recycled.
The Kansas City area averages about 22% of glass being recycled, Ripple Glass Co-founder John McDonald said. some Scandinavian counties have recycling rates of up to 80%.
"While I’m really proud of Ripple Glass, in a lot of ways we’ve not been very successful here," McDonald, who also founded Boulevard Brewing Co., said. "One of the things I’ve been most disappointed in is how hard we’ve worked to just move the needle a little bit. Without a legislative effort and some sort of national focus on the proper way to recycle materials, I think the United States will continue to lag behind in all recycling areas.”
Most of the cullet from Ripple Glass is used to make fiberglass insulation. Toledo, Ohio-based Owens Corning is its biggest customer.
“We also have a relationship with CertainTeed, which has a big plant right across the street," he said. "But the sad thing is, without more glass, we don’t have enough to supply them both. Hopefully we can figure out ways to get more glass.
Ten states host Ripple Glass bins, and all have a voluntary collection system.
"Iowa is the only state where we get a lot of deposit glass. Ultimately, we’re fans of the idea that the United States should have a more robust deposit system so that more glass gets collected."
The bins can only be placed in areas that can be monitored 24/7, since people try to throw tires, couches and trash into them.
Ripple Glass has to pay to dispose of illegal dumping, and it has removed bins that are targets for refuse, such as one on U.S. 291 Highway and 23rd Street in Independence.
“We had a bigger problem early on, but we’ve learned to put them in the right places,” MccDonald said. “Now that we’ve said no boxes or bags, it’s actually been a fairly clean stream of glass that we get. We have to do a little bit of sorting, but it’s mostly a very clean stream.”