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A group of passionate community members hope that a future can be created in Ellensburg to the tune of the sound of crushing glass.

The Ellensburg Glass Recycling Co-op is in the process of raising money to purchase a glass crusher for community use in response to the decision from Kittitas County Solid Waste to discontinue glass collection in October 2019.

Cooperative member Suzanne Noble said the group formed and created a social media presence after hearing news of the discontinuation. On the page, she said people began to talk about taking their glass to the West Side to recycle it, but obvious carbon footprint concerns arose with that logistic idea.

“All these people were thinking of taking this glass to Seattle,” she said.

The irony of the situation is that one of the locations people could take the glass to in Seattle was a location used by Solid Waste before it discontinued the use. Noble said the cost per ton didn’t cover the expense of hauling what the group estimated as an average of 240 tons of glass dropped off at the county recycling bins by county residents each year.

“It was cheaper to just take it to the landfill,” she said.

In August, Noble proposed the idea of purchasing a glass crusher for use in the community. As the group looked at options, it considered seeking grant funding, as well as partnering with various local organizations to purchase and operate the glass crusher. After looking at larger machines, the group settled on a smaller model that was easier to use and more affordable. The machine costs $6,000, and Noble said half of the cost has already been raised by community members after one month of fundraising. The group will also have to factor in shipping and maintenance costs, as well as insurance needed for those who operate the machine.

“We expect to have the funds by mid-February, if not before,” he said. “Once we get the machine here, we are going to have a soft opening and some of the donors can come and see how it works.”

After doing some research, Noble found a college student from Chelan County that had purchased a machine similar to the one the group is seeking and had been operating a similar effort in her community. Noble travelled with other group members to see the machine in action and to better understand how the process has worked out for the family.

“We crushed a bunch of glass and saw how easy it was to make it into sand,” she said. “The people in Manson formed a nonprofit 501c3 and they charge the wineries up there 25 cents a bottle to crush them. They pour the sand into sandbags, seal it and sell them to the hardware store for $5. They’re making enough money to maintain this glass crushing operation up there, and it’s a labor of love.”

COMMUNITY SUPPORT

Noble said support within the community has been positive for the glass crushing effort. The group sent out a poll over social media, with a large number of responses coming in saying people would take their glass to a crusher if one was available in town.

As the social media group has materialized, Noble said approximately 10 individuals have volunteered to collect and process the glass in the crusher, addressing a concern she received from Kittitas County Public Works regarding the hazards of piled up glass around town.

“I’m calling them glass ambassadors,” she said. “They will be responsible for picking up glass from their neighbors, family and friends.”

Noble said the group is planning on doing the crushing in conjunction with Oddfellows, who will use some of the sand for maintenance projects in their cemetery. She said there will most likely be plenty of sand available for community members to use for any way they see fit.

Looking toward the future, Noble said she would like to see the state enact deposit fees on glass similar to states like Oregon, where she said the state saves 86% of its bottles from the landfill due to the system. She said future community education opportunities should also come from House Bill 1543, passed during the state’s 2019-2020 legislative session regarding sustainable recycling, where one component of the bill focuses on outreach.

Noble’s hope is that by using the smaller-scale glass crusher within the community, people will see the benefits of keeping the bottles out of the landfill and they may see other opportunities for using the used glass for other uses. She said the crushed glass can be put to many uses beyond simple sand, including ingredients for concrete mix, reflective surfacing for concrete and artistic and consumer products.

“There’s literally hundreds of things you can do with it,” she said. “I see our project as a bridge until our county gets on board with glass recycling of some sort that’s bigger than what we’re doing.”

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