GLOBEVILLE — Mountains of recycled glass bottles await their next life outside the Clear Intentions recycling plant at 56th and Downing in Globeville. “Glass recycling is our best next step toward sustainability,” says Brittany Evans, CEO of Clear Intentions, a glass-only recycler. “Our goal is to close the loop so that all the glass we use is truly recycled into another product.”
Glass is infinitely recyclable, Evans said. “I can take a bottle, crush it down and make a brand new bottle with no new material or loss of quality. It’s the most reusable material, but it’s also the most problematic.”
Evans, 28, says glass is one of the biggest contributors to environmental degradation in Colorado, with 156,000 tons of glass thrown away each year (13,000 tons per month). “Only 17 percent of glass gets recycled, according to the State of Colorado, and the rest goes to landfills. According to bottle manufacturers, that number is much lower: only one out of 100 bottles.”
Clear Intentions diverts glass from landfills and processes it into a high-quality crushed glass called cullet, used in the manufacturing of new glass bottles, terrazzo, and fiberglass insulation. Recycling glass into new products helps reduce landfill waste and manufacturing emissions. “It saves energy and it’s not polluting to re-melt glass into other products,” said Evans. “We save our water and land, and reduce environmental degradation by recycling glass separately. Also, some materials being thrown into landfills are also being mined. We’re throwing away resources. If we recycle them, we can stop taking them out of the earth.”
Evans said the low recycling rate of glass is due in large part to single-stream recycling, a system used by most cities that co-mingles all recyclables together: paper, plastic, metal, and glass. “Cities do it that way because it’s convenient for people, and because it costs time and money to separate the materials. The problem is that the glass gets crushed up and it’s hard to separate from the other recyclables, so only about 25 percent of the glass gets recycled. Also, the glass shards contaminate the other recyclables. For every pound of glass we pull out of single-stream recycling, we save three pounds of other materials from landfills.”
Clear Intentions gathers and recycles nearly 200,000 pounds of glass each month at its 12,000-square-foot plant. That amount has more than doubled this year. “We could take in a lot more,” said Evans. “I knew how much is being thrown away, so I prepared to handle millions of pounds.”
Evans started Clear Intentions in Utah in 2013 and moved to Denver the following year. The company gathers glass at 20 public drop-off bins in Colorado, including their plant at 5601 Downing St. They also pick up glass from bars, hotels and restaurants. “Our immediate goal is to place 20 more bins in places that are accessible and easily found,” said Evans. “We want drop-offs to be easy for people. Lots of them are in front of grocery stores.
“We get requests for new bins all the time, especially in this neighborhood, where there are so many millennials. So far we have a fabulous following: our public drop-offs are overflowing, requiring more pickups—it’s a good sign. Our goal is to increase recycle rates for all materials.”
Clear Intentions cleans the glass and separates it by color, “so our customers get good-quality glass: there’s no contamination,” said Evans. “We sell it to service industries that make a wide variety of products, including bottles, windows, insulation, concrete, and sand-blasting supplies. We also sell glass to artists for mosaics and other uses.”
Most of the glass is sold to Rocky Mountain Bottling Co., which makes bottles for Miller-Coors. “Rocky Mountain needs and wants more recycled glass,” Evans said. “Right now about 25 percent of their glass is recycled, but they’d like it to be 70 to 80 percent.”
According to Clear Intentions’ website, recycling began during the Great Depression and World War II, when reusing materials became vital because resources were limited and people couldn’t afford to buy new materials. Recycling and reusing became a symbol of the war and a way for Americans back home to do their part to help the war effort.
America’s recycling effort took a step back during the 1950s when many recycling programs were abandoned in favor of disposing of waste in landfills. By the 1970s, the environmental movement led to an awareness of recycling. The bottle deposit-refund system was created to encourage the return of glass bottles to be washed, refilled, and resold. Beverage container waste, composing 40 to 60 percent of litter, was reduced in the streets, waterways and wilderness.
Single-stream recycling—a well-intentioned but faulty system—was introduced in the 1990s.
Evans became aware of the need and started Clear Intentions during her last year of college while finishing her degree in sustainable business and accounting. “I’m a passionate environmentalist, and I was looking for a way to truly impact the world. My passion for glass was ignited when I realized that win-win solutions were possible between business and our beautiful earth through sustainability. I strive every day to ensure my company adds value to this planet while providing top quality products for our local economy.”
Clear Intentions was named Small Business of the Year this August at The Denver Post’s 80/95 Awards, part of the Post’s Millennial Week recognizing young professionals.
Evans hopes to raise the level of education when it comes to the particulars of recycling. “Not a lot of people know much about it, so I give presentations to cities and groups, as well as tours of our plant for school children. We educate employees about separating recyclables at the bars where we pick up glass.
“Our goal is to recycle six million pounds of glass per month in the next five years—that’s half the glass that is going to landfills now. We’re heading for the tipping point: once more people are conscious about recycling glass, a bunch more people will do it.”
For more information visit, www.clearintentions.glass or Clear Intentions.Glass on Facebook.
The post Making a clear difference for the environment appeared first on North Denver Tribune.