Restoring Louisiana’s Shoreline, One Glass Bottle at a Time

The Glass Half Full team is adding sand made from recycled glass to swamp beaches.

2022 Glass Sand Show at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.
picture: Photo: Glass Half Full / Franziska Trautmann Drawings: Vicky Letta

Louisiana’s coastline is rapidly eroding due to rising sea levels and extreme weather caused by climate change. But New Orleans’ glass recycling initiative, Glass Half Full, is rounding up as many bottles as possible in the city to create sand to restore coasts.

The winning team in 2023 Gizmodo Science Fair, started in 2020, right before the coronavirus disrupted life all over the world. Their goal was to make use of discarded Louisiana glass, which are not largely recycled. At first, the founders, Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, could only crush one glass bottle at a time from their backyard operation. After a successful GoFundMe campaign that raised about $150,000, Glass Half Full was able to invest in larger machines and a suitable facility, and now they’ve delivered 150 thousand pounds From glass to sand per month.

According to Trotman, using recycled glass to restore coasters was an early goal. But they needed help, so in 2021 they reached out to their former professors at Tulane University. A glass half full, Tulane University professors and students, and researchers from other universities formed ReCoast To work together to test whether it might eventually be possible to put recycled glass on the coast to restore the shoreline.

Track E: ReCoast // Phase 1 Project Video

This connection led them to apply for and win a National Science Foundation grant to study how land loss affects the Gulf state. According to the USGS, Louisiana has lost an estimated 2,000 square miles of land between 1932 and 2016, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. With this grant money, researchers and students at Tulane University placed native plants in recycled sand and sediment similar to what they would encounter in the Mississippi River. They observed plant growth and saw that native plants survived in the mixture of sand and recycled glass sediment.

When I first spoke to Glass Half Full in 2022, the team was just winding down First install them Using recycled glass on the Louisiana coast. Team members and volunteers added 12,000 pounds of recycled glass sand to the coast, in cooperation with local residents Pointe or Chin tribe.

The group also performed a similar glass display a few weeks later at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge north of New Orleans. Cup half full deposited approx 20,000 pounds of recycled glass sandAlong with burlap sacks and 5,000 native plants, they are at the shelter to repair damage from Hurricane Ida.

These early demonstrations were part of Glass Half Full’s first phase of testing to see if their sand was safe for plants and animals. Months later, Trautmann returned to the sanctuary to see if the plants had transferred to the recycled glass sand in nature, as they had done in the lab. Sediment piled up on the sand, and plants placed in the mixture were still growing. “Both projects are doing amazing,” she said.

Through ReCoast, Glass Half Full has enhanced its process and testing—supported by another grant from the National Science Foundation this past September. Tulane University She received an additional $5 million To expand lab testing and further demonstrations along the coast. “Phase two will be more implementation projects in Louisiana, and then expanding the research outside of Louisiana,” Trautman explained. “We’re looking at Alabama, Florida, maybe Hawaii — different environments that also have coastal erosion issues and then also don’t have glass recycling.”

A recycling facility in New Orleans is fighting coastal erosion by turning bottles into sandbags

One concern is how the local marine fauna will interact with the sand. Henry L. Bart, a professor of ecology at Tulane University, led tests in which he and students exposed crabs and local fish, such as Atlantic Bartender, to crushed glass sand. Marine animals were digging and moving in the sand. After months of exposure, the researchers studied how the sand affected the animals’ bodies. “The club had swallowed a little bit of sand,” he said. “We checked if there was any infection in their stomach or abdomen from that, and there wasn’t, and it didn’t cause any sores or cuts.”

Steitz and Trautmann said they are often in disbelief at how supportive the local community is and how much glass they have been able to repurpose for different needs. Recycled glass by Glass Half Full is also used in the construction beads for jewelry. Glass Half Full also continued to sell various recycled glass materials for construction and sandbags for disaster relief.

What started as a rogue operation, where both founders had to harass friends to bring them their own glass bottles, has become a larger company with an increasingly local influence. “I hope our story inspires people to seek solutions to problems that seem overwhelming,” Steitz said.

Read more: Crushed glass became a must-have along the coasts of Louisiana


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