By Heather Wallace
Surrounded by the cool, crisp spring air, a small group gathered together on a quiet Saturday morning in the recycling area at the Orcas Transfer Station, eager to witness the capabilities of the newest addition to local recycling initiatives – Big Blue, the glass crushing machine.
Last month, ORS/The Exchange began offering tours of the recycling process at the transfer station including a demonstration of how the new glass crushing machine works. So far, about 30 people have taken part in the tours led by Board President Jim “Duff” Duffield and/or Executive Director Pete Moe. Tour participants begin at the recycling area and are given a short tutorial allowing them to come away with a better understanding of why proper separation is so important. They are also shown where the soon-to-be baler building and equipment will be located and why that is essential to continued recycling efforts on the island. The tour ends at the glass crushing machine where participants are able to watch – from start to finish – how the glass crushing machine takes recycled glass and turns it into a reusable sand-like material.
“I attended a presentation of the new glass crusher operation at the Orcas Exchange Facility recently and came away with a very positive feeling,” says Orcas resident Dale Coburn. “The final product is totally usable, completely safe to the touch, and in a consistency of coarse sand. There could be a multitude of uses for this product. It could be used to decorate flower beds or cover walkways and driveways. I was extremely impressed with the operation and the finished product.”
“Big Blue” was purchased earlier this year from Andela Products Company in Richfield Springs, NY with generous donations from local supporters. Glass has little to no value as a recycled material and is very heavy and expensive to transport off the island. Reusing those materials on-island is much more desirable and supports ORS’s zero waste initiatives.
“We realized if we could crush the glass into sand, all of it could be used in construction and excavation projects right here on the island,” says Moe. “What we didn’t consider, however, were all the other reuse applications islanders have come up with, or want to experiment with, using the recycled glass.”
The resulting crushed glass is actually a very smooth product, as tour participants can attest. Many were encouraged to catch the glass as it came out of the machine and, much to their surprise, found the material to have no sharp edges.
If you’ve been separating your glass into one of the blue totes and placing it into a bin in the recycling area, you’ve likely wondered how much crushed glass is created from one full tote. Pete Moe recently ran an experiment and found that one full tote of separated, recycled glass equates to about 14 ounces of crushed glass/sand. This is an incredible savings on transportation alone. According to Recycle Across America, more than 28 billion glass bottles and jars end up in landfills every year – the equivalent of filling up two Empire State Buildings every three weeks.
From November 2021 through March 2022, Orcas residents have taken 32.9 tons of glass out of the co-mingled stream, or 28.7% of the volume by weight.
ORS is offering tours through the summer of its recycling operations including an opportunity to watch Big Blue in action. The next tour dates are May 18 at 1:30pm, June 12 at 9:15am, June 15 at 1:30pm, and July 10 at 9:15am. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign-up. Special group tours may also be scheduled with Duff.