Idaho Couple Takes Glass Recycling Into Their Own Hands

May 13, 2013

In Coeur d’Alene, residents can recycle paper, plastic, and aluminum. A new non-profit is chipping away at what they see as a problem: the city doesn’t recycle glass. Spokane Public Radio’s Paige Browning reports.

  Twice a month, a dozen or so people lug blue bins full of glass bottles to a warehouse in Coeur d’Alene. They’re members of Coeur d’Alene Glass Recycling Company, opened in March by Ben and Melissa Mello.

Municipal glass recycling is bottlenecked in most of northern Idaho because of the cost associated with the process. The Mellos moved to Coeur d’Alene, Melissa’s hometown, a couple years ago and found it crazy glass recycling wasn’t available.

Mello: “And that there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm for recycling glass. That people wanted to do it, and they didn’t like throwing their glass away, and we didn’t either.”

So they came up with a business idea, shared it with friends at Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and the group welcomed them under their umbrella as a non-profit. They opened with 150 members- a cap ready to pop.

Mello: “Right now we have a waiting list, I’m looking at our list right now, and we’ve got 30 people.”

Members give about 120-dollars as an annual donation, and can dump their bottles at the warehouse twice a month. A limited 25 members get monthly pick-ups from Ben Mello and five-year old son Benjamin, in a cherry-red 1970 Chevy truck.

At the warehouse, member Debbie Paul says she and her husband used to save glass and recycle it during trips to Portland.

Paul: “When we drink beer or wine or whatever, that’s a lot of glass that’s going to the landfill. It just didn’t seem right.”

So she hands off her bottles to the company, where volunteers crush it in a pulverizer, and Ben Mello hand sifts it.

It’s up to 10,000 pounds of glass every month avoiding the landfill.

Mello: “So this is like the olive greens, this is the light green, white green and browns.”

It’s processed into four colors and four sizes. As a finished product, most is used by local landscapers and architects.

Mellos: “But it could also be used just as mulch, pathways, walkways. The finer product can be used for sandblasting or for filtration.”

Finding even more uses for the product is their next goal. The Mello’s also want to grow by expanding the all-volunteer staff, and buying a bigger pulverizer that machine-sifts the aggregate. Melissa Mello says the endeavor is good for their two kids.

Mello: “They are going to grow up seeing their family members be really altruistic and volunteering and giving back to their community…"

Mello: “We’re just making a small dent in a huge glass, I think problem.”

Chipping away are Coeur d’Alene Glass Recycling, and Glass Roots in Sandpoint.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio