Breaking Glass and Building Community with Shelby Kaye

In 2020, Shelby Kaye founded Broken Arrow Glass Recycling, a creative recycling business that artistically upcycles glass, creating a closed loop system for its commercial and residential clients.

Willona Sloan, Freelance writer

May 22, 2024

6 Min Read

In 2020, Shelby Kaye founded Broken Arrow Glass Recycling, a creative recycling business that artistically upcycles glass, creating a closed loop system for its commercial and residential clients. Broken Arrow processes 18 to 20 tons of glass per month, and continues to grow. In 2022, the company received the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce’s Best New Business Award.

In this Q&A interview, Kaye, who is a professional artist, President of Broken Arrow, and a Waste360 40 Under 40 award winner, discusses how her company reinvents glass waste as blown glass art and houseware.

This interview has been edited for length.

Waste360: When did you found Broken Arrow and what business need did you found your company to address?

Shelby Kaye: We were founded in 2020, and we offer curbside glass collection services to residential and commercial members within the Santa Fe, New Mexico area, and Taos, New Mexico.

Broken Arrow Glass is a creative glass recycling facility. After we collect the glass recycling, we bring it back to our facility, where we process the recycling into blown glass art and houseware. We upcycle the bottles, and then we also crush the material to be used for landscaping material, eco construction, and a process called terrazzo (crushed glass and concrete mixed together and then polished out). We’re also using the raw material for flood diversion and erosion control material.

Waste360: I know lots of companies have trouble finding anyone who is doing glass recycling near them. What brought you to that space?

Shelby Kaye: My background is in art. I graduated with a degree from NYU in sculpture, and while I was in school, I got into working with glass, and I met the co-founder of our business at Pilchuck Glass School, which is a glassblowing school founded by Dale Chihuly. So, myself and my partner, we have our backgrounds in glassblowing.

How we got started working with recycled glass was, I was pregnant with my first child, and I wasn’t able to be in the studio blowing glass. I was home growing a child. I started drinking a lot of kombucha when I was pregnant. We, all of a sudden, had all of this glass waste, and also my partner was like, “This stuff is expensive. I don't know how we can afford your drink habit.”

I was selling his blown glass at an artisan market on Sundays. I had an idea to buy a bottle cutter, and I scored the glass and put a pattern on one of the kombucha bottles, and put a teak candle in it. I started making these candle votives at home. I could just score it, plunge it in cold water, and grind it with sandpaper. I sold the first 10 I made at $35 a piece within two weekends. I was thinking, if I can upcycle my glass waste that I’m producing in my home, I wonder if I can do this on a larger scale.

We had a brewery in Santa Fe that sells the kombucha bottles we had upcycled, and they asked us if we would do it for the glass waste from their bar. We started making drinking glasses out of the brewery’s bottles, and then they would use them in the bar and sell them. Basically, we started upcycling our own glass waste to divert it.

Glass recycling is not picked up curbside in the city of Santa Fe, so we just sort of started diverting our own household waste by this process of creatively upcycling. Now we are collecting a little over 18 tons of glass recycling a month within our community, and we are upcycling about 1,000 to 2,000 bottles a month, just by turning the bottles into drinking glasses.

Waste360: How have you gotten the word out?

Shelby Kaye: We’ve done zero marketing to date, and our entire program has been spread through word of mouth. This is really for our community, and so we’re out in the community. We go to local markets and we’ll set up a booth, we’ll sell our goods, and while we’re there, we’re talking to people about where the recycling came from, that we offer a curbside pickup program, we also have a drop-off day once a month at our facility.

We have a little over 300 members in our program, and it’s all just from either people who saw us at a market, or the neighbor told the neighbor, told the neighbor. It’s incredible how our program has just grown really by the strength of our community here.

Waste360: What’s on the horizon for your business?

Shelby Kaye: Currently, we are building our glassblowing studio. We just got a 40-pound furnace, so our furnace is hot right now, and we are now melting the bottles down and blowing glass from the recycling.

We’re going to start by melting down about 300 pounds of glass a week in our furnace. That would be about 1,200 pounds of bottle glass a month.

What we’re looking towards and what’s on the horizon is, we are essentially just working on growth. We were just approved for a program in New Mexico called the Job Training Incentive Program. Essentially, we were approved for six new employees, and the state will reimburse us for a six-month training period for employees.

We also just received, through the Regional Development Center of New Mexico, a $20,000 TEAM Fund Loan, and that’s what we’re using to build out our glassblowing studio.

What’s going on for us, within our business, is that we are the only ones locally processing glass recycling. The recycling facilities in Northern New Mexico would like for us to grow, where we could process what northern New Mexico is producing. That looks like 260 tons a month in Albuquerque; 160 tons in Santa Fe; probably 120 tons in Los Alamos; and 140 tons in Taos. Right now, we’re processing about, let's say 18 to 20 tons a month. We’re like OK, just give us a second, we’re just artists. But they have said, “You’re the only ones processing glass in northern New Mexico, so can you hurry up and process all of this waste?”

We’ve taken on no investors or anything. We’re scrapping an awesome business together. Essentially, we’re looking in the direction of, how can we now meet the needs of what our municipalities are asking from us?

Waste360: What advice would you give to a young professional who wanted to start a creative business to solve or address a waste or recycling issue?

Shelby Kaye: My advice would be to follow the creative avenue that feels most passionate for the individual on this pursuit. When you start a business, it is an extension of you. I’ve got two small children, and this business is my third child. This supports our family, it supports our community, but I live and breathe and think about how to better every aspect, down to our sifting process, to a new product that we’re going to launch, any moment that I’m not taking care of my laughing child or my crying child.

For recycling and reusing waste, if you are excited and passionate about it, then that is going to affect all of the people around you, and then you will be able to support this goal of reducing whatever material or reusing whatever material that is. I think it just comes down to passion.

About the Author(s)

Willona Sloan

Freelance writer, Waste360

Willona Sloan is a freelance writer for Waste360 covering the collection and transfer beat.

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