Coastal Georgia residents turn to at-home alternatives for glass recycling: 'I don’t see any of this as trash'

·4 min read

Recyclers are burnt out on rumors their efforts go to waste, which is why when one Richmond Hill resident found out her glass wasn’t being recycled, she started looking for some home-grown alternatives.

Tamela Buttrey has constructed a foot-tall glass labyrinth in a sectioned-off area of her yard. Filled with glass bottles of every color arranged into neat rows, the yard brimming with breakables is Buttrey’s at-home glass recycling operation in Richmond Hills.

“I don’t see any of this as trash,” Buttrey said.

Sorting through recycling: University of Georgia startup company engineers solutions to recycling confusion

Recycling woes: Five years after local glass ban, frustration persists over recycling bottles and jars

Surrounded by mostly wine bottles, Tamela Buttrey shows a portion of the glass she has collected from community members.
Surrounded by mostly wine bottles, Tamela Buttrey shows a portion of the glass she has collected from community members.

She operates Our Glass Life, which can best be described as a boutique glass recycling operation. Buttrey said she only collects from about 20 people, including two restaurants, but nevertheless has plenty of glass on her hands. She sells commercial-grade recycling bins for $25 and charges $10 to pick up the glass. She also picks up glass at the Richmond Hills farmers' market.

“You don’t normally think about it when you throw away one bottle at time,” Buttrey said, but the bottles add up. She said that if people saved all the glass they use in a month, they’d be surprised how it amasses — and she said this experience is what set her on her course to being grinding glass.

A retired oncology nurse, Buttrey’s interest in at-home recycling began when she became a wine consultant with Scout & Cellars, a company that employs multi-level marketing, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and had more glass bottles than normal.

But when she went to recycle them, she was informed by the employee picking up her solid waste that Bryan County no longer recycles glass.

Buttrey uses Atlantic Waste Services, the City of Richmond Hill's trash and recycling provider, which also services Bryan, Chatham and Effingham Counties, Tybee Island and Pooler, among other locations. Atlantic doesn’t recycle glass, and neither do the municipal services for Bryan County, Chatham County, or the City of Savannah.

For recyclers who want to ensure their glass items' lifecycles continue, the Georgia coast is practically bereft of options.

The Chatham County Resource Conservation & Recycling Education Center and the City of Savannah were both contacted via email and phone for comments regarding recycling and glass recycling options, but neither offered an immediate response.

Glass-crushing machine makes recycling at home possible

Buttrey was hung up on her lack of glass recycling options for a while until she heard from her daughter-in-law’s sister about a company that makes small glass crushing machines for recycling. After months of consideration, she took the plunge.

The machine, a GLS2.0, is petite – only around 3.5 feet tall. It has a square mouth to feed bottles into a slender neck leading down into a bucket to collect the processed glass, which has been pulverized into sand.

The GLS2.0 can only take one bottle at a time, but relatively quite and small it is the perfect fit for Buttrey's backyard shed.
The GLS2.0 can only take one bottle at a time, but relatively quite and small it is the perfect fit for Buttrey's backyard shed.

One of only 60 such machines in the world, according to Buttrey, it’s designed by Expleco Limited, a company in New Zealand that produces glass crushers with the goal of reducing pressure on global landfills and waterway catchments.

In a fenced-in corner of her shaded yard, Buttrey has a small shed that houses the machine. Donning boots, overalls and gloves, Buttrey sorts through, washes and removes labels from glass before putting them in the crusher. She wears a mask to protect herself from inhaling any glass particulates.

Buttrey doesn’t harbor any delusions of grandeur. She realizes her operation is small and that she’s limited in what she can do, but she's content and enjoys the process of glass crushing.

While she invested in the expensive crushing machine, the screens to sift the sand made of crushed glass to create a market-quality product are expensive, costing thousands of dollars. She uses some now that were donated to her by a friend who sells screens not intended for glass recycling. Moreover, she simply doesn’t have the capacity to make enough sand to really market it to companies looking to buy sand made from recycled glass.

For now, she piles the sand around a tree in her backyard. Different colors of sand make tiny hills where she has experimented getting finer quality sand, grinding only certain colors to make a green or blue sand, or sand that has little bits of labels she didn’t peel off. It’s soft to the touch.

Different piles of sand demonstrate where Buttrey has experimented with different styles of grinding glass.
Different piles of sand demonstrate where Buttrey has experimented with different styles of grinding glass.

“Every bottle here isn’t going to the landfill. That feels good,” Buttrey said.

She said she thinks there’s a lot the community could do with sand made out of recycled glass, whether it be used on golf courses or to fill sandbags used to prevent floods during storms. She said she’s going to continue what she’s doing, and the next step is looking for partners who can help her connect to where her product, the sand, can go.

Buttrey isn’t the only local looking to combat the lack of glass recycling options in the area. Malena A. Gauss founded Lammergeier closed-loop glass recycling, a company which, on a larger scale than Buttrey, is also entering the glass-recycling market to fill the need in coastal Georgia.

Marisa is an environmental journalist covering climate change and the environment on the coast. She can be reached at mmecke@gannett.com or by phone at (912) 328-4411. 

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: At-home glass recycling addresses lack of local options in GA