Glass bottle and jar manufacturer O-I Glass has a fairly new program to recover more cullet for its operations, but the initiative is designed to have other payoffs. Branded as Glass4Good, the program helps communities more easily and cheaply deal with spent glass; get some of it back for their own businesses to remake into new glass containers; and receive donations for local charities, based on weight of recovered material.
This new partnership between OI-Glass and community is in place in two Virginia jurisdictions whose glass ultimately makes its way to O-I’s processing plant in Pennsylvania—one of 18 it owns and operates in North America. The communities pick local charities to benefit from the donations they receive, which are dispersed through O-I’s foundation.
“We have 10 ambitious sustainability goals [under the pillars of stimulating social impact; energizing economic development; advancing manufacturing; and achieving a sustainable future]. And Glass4Good helps check off boxes for several of these goals,” says Elizabeth Hupp, O-I Glass global social engagement leader.
First and foremost, she says, “We are working to implement positive social impact in the communities where we live and work, while ensuring glass recycling is available in all of them.”
But the intention is not only to encourage people to recycle and offer a different way to give back locally; it’s also to educate them about glass sustainability and circularity, she says. The message being, the jars you bought and recycled turn into money for charity, but they can also be made into other glass packages in as little as 30 days.
O-I, in collaboration with the local communities, created educational materials that are posted on social media and O-I and community websites. Materials are distributed via utility bill inserts and at schools when students learn about donation opportunities.
One of the early program participants, James City County in Virginia, has a healthy tourism sector and plenty of local food and beverage manufacturers that need recycled glass to feed that sector. But they have struggled to get enough cullet. There are no nearby glass processors, and a lacking supply has fueled procurement and pricing challenges, says Kate Sipes, James City County assistant director of Economic Development.
“I needed to learn what happens to what goes into recycling bins, and I leaned on Cassie Cordova [our Environmental Sustainability coordinator] to understand that and to understand how we could get glass out from wherever it was going and funnel it to manufacturers,” Sipes says.
The county has single-stream curbside pickup, so glass was mixed in with other recyclables, then moving on to the local materials recovery facility (MRF) where it was causing problems. It breaks through collection, transport, and sorting. The small shards can damage MRF machines, and it was contaminating other commodities, rendering it valueless to local bottle and jar makers. Instead, the material was leaving the community, likely with a portion ending up as feedstock for fiberglass manufacturers with less stringent specs.
Enter James City County’s partnership with O-I.
The company provided the county with purple collection containers for glass only through a grant. Residents can place it in these containers, set up at three drop off centers. The county transports the loads to a nearby O-I facility for storage, and from there O-I backhauls to its processing plant where it’s color sorted, then the processed glass is returned to the community’s facilities where it is made into new containers.
Since September 2021, James City County has filled three bins that are about two tons each.
It’s been a money saver and is stimulating the economy.
“Moving glass to MRF’s added to the weight of loads and to transporting costs, and it was not feeding our local glass and beverage industries where it was needed. Now residents can drop it off at a central location. It’s not costing the county to get it from the nearby location where we transport it to the processing plant. And it comes back to us so our manufacturers can use it in their process,” Sipes says, adding the county only had to make small changes to how drop off centers function. “It was simple but made a big difference.”
The donation, provided through O-I, goes to the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula and supports Pathways Out of Poverty,a workforce development program that helps with educational and health needs among others.
“Needs are different in different communities. And we are not on the ground to know where those needs are, so we rely on local organizations such as United Way chapters to identify them, and to make sure donations have meaningful impact. That collaboration between us and the communities is important to be able to accomplish this,” Hupp says.
The City of Danville, VA also participates in GLASS4GOOD. So far, the city has sent 85.5 tons of glass to O-I.
Donations funneling in from the program go to United Way of Danville-Pittsylvania County, which has several focus areas such as around literacy and health. Outcome goals within each area target identified issues in the community (i.e., children reading by third grade, services for the homeless, and workforce development).
United Way selected a program that specifically addresses a low-literacy rate in the region it serves. Called BookEnds/Joy of Reading, it provides free new books to kids, with the goal to distribute a million books.
“The United Way and Joy of Reading program are very appreciative of the opportunity O-I has provided us through GLASS4GOOD. The funds have already bought books and provided a free book to every child in two elementary schools. And another 1,200 will be given away in early 2022,” says Jennifer Smith, president/CEO, United Way of Danville-Pittsylvania County.
James City County’s Cordova talks about three sustainability factors that are gaining traction these days:
“There are people, profit, and planet. This project [with O-I) incorporates all three. There is an environmental aspect where the glass is being properly recycled. It contributes to the local economy. And there is the people aspect which is where the United Way donation comes in.”