A Second Life

A Second Life

Max Steitz and Franziska Trautmann see the glass half full

Words by Michelle Ferrand

For most eco-conscious adults, tossing a glass bottle into your recycling bin feels like second nature. Better off there than in your trash, right? Despite your good intentions, chances are that glass bottle (and many more) will end up in a landfill. According to the EPA, roughly 60 percent of glass ends up in landfills. However, a New Orleans-based glass recycling program is looking to change that.

“We use the single stream system in America, where we put all of our recyclables in one bin. With that, a lot of contamination happens,” said Franziska Trautmann, co-founder and co-director of Glass Half Full.

“That makes it difficult and time-consuming for facilities to sort through,” she said. “So, they end up tossing it all away.”

The idea of Glass Half Full came to her and co-founder Max Steitz over a bottle of wine—both pondering why their glass bottle would end up in a landfill and not recycled into something functional. As Tulane seniors, Franziska and Max started Glass Half Full as a small project, something they could do with friends when they weren’t busy with homework and pass it off to other students once they graduated. However, once word got out through social media that the two were doing this, the community reception pushed their project into a full-fledged company.

“Because the response was so incredible and intense, we knew we really had to do this,” said Franziska. “People were [contacting] us all day every day, asking to help or to get involved.”

According to Franziska, the process works like this: once the glass is collected, they put it into a pulverizer that breaks it down into small pieces. Then, a mechanical sieve sorts and separates the pieces into uniform sizes. Anything that’s fine and powdery is good for sandbags and flood prevention. The gravel-sized pieces can be used for flooring and construction. The largest pieces get remelted into new glass products. The coarse sand pieces are reserved for coastal restoration—an initiative that is under research with the help of the National Science Foundation and Tulane.

For the implementation stage, which should start before Summer 2022, Glass Half Full will work with the Pointe-au-Chien Indigenous tribe to restore its coastal community. The tribe, based out of southeast Louisiana, was badly impacted by Hurricane Ida, the second most-damaging hurricane to hit the state, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. If all goes well, that would open the door to larger, state-funded coastal restoration projects.

“We plan to produce millions of pounds of sand annually to supply the rapidly depleting resource globally. We aim to be a more sustainable alternative to sand extraction and sand mining,” said Franziska.

Glass Half Full has two other initiatives—NOLA Alchemy and Stay Lit. NOLA Alchemy is a collaboration with a local glass artist where they repurpose recycled glass into glass Mardi Gras beads. Stay Lit is a collaboration with Feed the Second Line, a local nonprofit that supports the culture bearers of New Orleans. Together, they’re working toward providing solar panels to local businesses and restaurants in densely packed areas of the city, areas that don’t usually evacuate during hurricanes for various socio-economic reasons. With that in mind, Franziska hopes to set up at least eight businesses with solar panels before hurricane season starts up again.

Looking toward the future, Glass Half Full wants to keep refining its model so it can bring its program to other cities that don’t currently offer glass recycling. Eventually, it would like to become the principal glass recycling plant for the entire state of Louisiana. Two big goals seemingly within reach, considering how much Glass Half Full has accomplished in the two years it’s been around. Last October, it won Most Innovative Program at the Keep Louisiana Beautiful Annual Conference. In early January, it hit a new collection record: 30,000 pounds of glass in one day, bringing the overall total to 1.8 million pounds since starting. Major media outlets such as BuzzFeed and Good Morning America have profiled Glass Half Full. It has over 200,000 followers on TikTok, and its most popular video has been viewed 9.1 million times. 

“Tiktok has been super helpful. We’ve connected with volunteers there, gotten machines donated, and we even did a partnership with Corona beer,” she said. 

Despite the notice from big organizations, Glass Half Full does not have any corporate or state funding. Franziska said, “It’s a common misconception people have. The program is entirely run by small donations from people in the community.” 

“Individual action can add up to a huge collective action. It can add up to over 1.8 million pounds of glass being diverted from ending up in a landfill,” she said. “It’s our community that made us what we are today.”