A New Use for Old Glass

By Beacon Staff

A glass bottle takes about 1 million years to decompose in the environment. Plastic bottles last almost 450 years. Even something as simple as a plastic bag from the grocery store can take 20 years to waste away.

Montana residents generated 1.7 million tons of garbage in 2010 and 19 percent of that waste was recycled, according to the latest study by the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The trend of recycling across the U.S. has steadily increased over the last 30 years, but for a variety of reasons, recycling in Montana remains more of a challenge than in most states.

That’s where Teri Schneider and Matt O’Dea saw an opportunity to help.

A year ago Schneider and O’Dea took over New World Recycling, a curbside recycling service that operates across the valley and collects cardboard, paper, aluminum, tin, plastics and, most notably, glass.

“This is a phenomenal place and we want to do our part in cutting down on the carbon footprint in the valley,” said Schneider, a Columbia Falls native.

With only a few drop-off locations scattered around the Flathead, glass recycling can be burdensome. The county has consistently ranked in the top three in the state for glass container generation, according to the DEQ.

O’Dea and Schneider have tapped into the small glass recycling market with the help of a pulverizer machine. The machine turns old beer bottles into smooth pebble-sized pieces that can be used a variety of ways. A shining example is the driveway leading to the couple’s home business off U.S. Highway 2 West near Glacier International Airport. On a recent afternoon, the driveway glittered like jewelry, reflecting the reused pulverized glass.

“We’re getting it back down to actual sand size and it’s beautiful,” Schneider said.

According to Schneider, no other business can break down glass into a safe commodity. Schneider said the colorful pieces of pulverized glass are safe to walk on, dust-free and perfect for landscaping. The business has already sold sandbags of recycled glass across the state and beyond. A man in Arizona recently bought 20 sandbags to decorate around his home, Schneider said.

O’Dea bought New World Recycling from Cory Cullen, who started the curbside service in 2003 with only a car, a small trailer and a $5,000 loan.

Since taking the reins from Cullen, O’Dea and Schneider have tried to increase the emphasis on glass recycling.

For $15 a month, residents can sign up for New World Recycling’s monthly pickup. Or there’s a free drop-off location at their home located at 4969 U.S. Highway 2 West.

Montana residents face several challenges when it comes to recycling. The state has a limited recycling infrastructure and is far from large markets. Rural communities are often far from a recycling center. In the Flathead, there are three recycling centers — Pacific Steel and Recycling, North Valley Recycling and Valley Recycling. Flathead Valley Green Machines also offers a similar curbside recycling service.

Matt O’Dea empties a garbage can of glass onto a conveyer belt that leads to the pulverizer at New World Recycling on U.S. Highway 2 south of Columbia Falls.

The goal of New World Recycling is to make it easier for residents to recycle. Sometimes folks don’t have time to drive to the nearest center, or maybe don’t have a unified way to gather recyclables, Schneider said.

“Our goal is to be able to assist everyone,” she said. “That means us picking up recycling and giving people their time so they don’t have to worry about the time it takes to go recycle.”

She understands not everyone is ready to pay for recycling. But it’s a minimal cost that covers the business’ expenses, she said. And it has a big impact.

“If we’re picking up 10 people’s recycling, that’s 10 less people making a carbon footprint,” she said.

In 1991, the state Legislature created the Integrated Waste Management Act aimed at reducing the amount of solid waste disposed in landfills or incinerated. The Legislature included target goals for increasing recycling and composting rates from 15 percent in 2003 to 19 percent by 2011. That goal was achieved two years early, according to the DEQ, reflecting a proliferation of recycling in Montana. The benefits of recycling 19.7 percent of waste in 2010 include reducing the greenhouse gas equivalent of 227,470 cars driving on Montana roads and saving 250,584 trees.

That’s welcome news for New World Recycling, both from a business and personal standpoint.

“We really want to push the reduce, reuse, recycle slogan,” Schneider said. “It’s something we do on our own. Anywhere we go we’re recycling. Our son (Denver) loves recycling. We all have to work together to get it done. That’s why we decided to buy the business.”

For more information about New World Recycling, call 257-5899.

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