Member Spotlight: Ripple Glass

This is part of a series of interviews with NRC members. The purpose is to provide insights into materials management programs and best practices of member municipalities, businesses, and service providers.

Founded in 2009, Ripple Glass is a glass processor located in Kansas City, MO. Ripple accepts recycled glass from a nine-state region across the Midwest and brings it back to their facility for sorting and processing. The recycled glass is sent to Owens Corning in Kansas City, MO to be made into fiberglass insulation as well as Ardagh in Tulsa, OK to be made into glass bottles. We spoke with Josh Boyer, Regional Program Manager at Ripple Glass, to get an inside look at how Ripple Glass operates.

NRC: What steps has Ripple Glass taken to reduce waste and incorporate more sustainable materials and practices? Can you describe what you have done and what your initial goals were?  

RG: Ripple Glass has provided a glass recycling option for the Kansas City area and the surrounding region. Now, glass has an opportunity to be recycled into materials with a positive impact on the environment. The glass is made into fiberglass insulation to create energy efficient homes and new glass bottles that are endlessly recyclable.

NRC: How did the idea for making these changes arise in the first place?

RG: Before Ripple Glass was founded, there was no glass recycling option in the Kansas City area. All the glass was being thrown in the landfill. Our founder, Boulevard Brewing Company, was tired of landfilling their glass and decided to create a solution for the problem. Ripple Glass was established in 2009 and in addition to solving Kansas City’s glass recycling problem, has provided a solution to communities in nine surrounding states.   

NRC: What were/are the most difficult aspects of implementing/maintaining the program, and how do you handle them?

RG: Starting a new drop-off program or changing the way glass is collected can be challenging. We humans are creatures of habit and changing recycling behavior can be tough. Getting the word out and educating recyclers is always a challenge. 

Another difficult aspect is managing contamination. It is very important for the communities, where we collect glass, to educate the public on properly disposing of their glass. We cannot take plastic bags, cardboard boxes, frames, etc. Glass only!

NRC: How has COVID-19 affected your operations?

RG: Ripple Glass has operated continuously this year as an essential business. Some of the recycling centers where we collect glass suspended operations temporarily in the Spring, most if not all are back online. Our collection in the Kansas City Metro actually increased by more than 20% over the past few months. We believe that more people had time to go out and recycle their glass and enjoyed good food and beverage while at home. 

NRC: Have there been any unexpected barriers during the pandemic?

RG: Ripple works with over 100 communities across nine states in the Midwest and each area was impacted differently. Understanding the unique landscape in each community and the challenges they face isn’t something we foresaw.

NRC: Have there been any unanticipated benefits during the pandemic?

RG: Yes, our local collection of glass has increased! More people had free time to enjoy beverages in glass bottles and recycle their glass which was an unexpected benefit.

NRC: Are you tracking recycling, landfilling, reduction, and reuse (zero waste) metrics?

RG: Ripple does track all material coming in and out of our facility and strives to be as close to zero waste as possible. We have a goal to be zero waste to landfill by 2022.

NRC: What have you done to engage the community/employees/customers?

RG: We love to engage with the community! Ripple Glass has a Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram page. You can find us on Instagram @rippleglasskc and Twitter @rippleglass. We do pop-up events and tabling at farmer’s markets in Kansas City. We attend recycling conferences in our nine-state region to connect with different communities. Our regional program celebrates anniversaries every five years with communities that started a glass recycling program with us.

NRC: What are your goals or aspirations going forward?

RG: Our goal is to continue providing a sustainable glass recycling option to Kansas City and the surrounding region. We plan to expand more and reach more communities that are needing a glass recycling outlet.

NRC: How do you think you can reach those goals?  

RG: We can achieve these goals by continuing to educate the public on the importance of glass recycling in a community. Glass is endlessly recyclable and very sustainable. We also need to let people know about Ripple Glass. There are communities that do not believe there is an outlet for glass, and we need to make ourselves known. It is very helpful for communities who already recycle with us to spread the word about Ripple Glass!

NRC: What are your biggest concerns going forward?

RG: Our concern is that communities will pay expensive tipping fees to landfill their glass when they have a cost-saving and sustainable option to recycle it. We hope to reach as many communities as possible and give them a sustainable option for glass recycling.

NRC: Do you have any advice for others trying to improve their programs?

RG: The advice we would give is that there is no one-size-fits-all program with Ripple Glass. We recognize that no one knows the community better than the people who live in it. Communities can collect glass whichever way they want if it works for them!

NRC: What do you think is the single most important thing to do or the most important place to start when implementing the types of changes you have made?

RG: The most important place to start is educating the public on a separate glass collection. People need to understand the purpose of the collection sites and recognize that the collection is for glass only. This will reduce contamination and make the residents aware of the importance of separating their recyclables.

NRC: If you had the power to change anything in the overall system of materials management outside your business, what would it be?

RG: Increased use of recycled content in products manufactured in the US.

NRC: Have your interactions with NRC been helpful?

RG: Absolutely! The NRC has helped reach out to communities across the great state of Nebraska and explain the opportunity with Ripple Glass. The NRC has promoted separate glass collection and has helped us connect with municipalities who are interested in a separate glass collection.

Thank you for your valuable insight, Josh!