Steve Kozachik with Glass Grinder

Council Member Steve Kozachik with sand made of glass.

While attending a Mayor and City Council meeting in support of green infrastructure funding, I caught the tail end of their discussion on what to do about our threatened recycling program. The city is losing $3 million a year. They also discussed the high cost of storing glass bottles until they can find a buyer. It was suggested that they throw that glass in the landfill!

I couldn’t help but blurt out, “No! Find a use for it!”  There has to be a purpose for that glass! Since we are running out of sand, couldn’t we use glass to replace it in cement structures?

When arriving at the Ward 6 Office for our monthly Sustainable Tucson meeting, my husband pointed out the new sidewalk made out of cement with sand from crushed glass!

When I mentioned the sidewalk to our Council Member Steve Kozachik, he gave me an impromptu demonstration of the glass crusher he had used to make the sand for the cement. He insisted that I try it myself. It was pretty fun.

Steve said that even the cement workers who put in the sidewalk thought it was a crazy idea to use sharp glass.  But any concerns were eased when Steve let me feel for myself how soft and fine the glass sand is.

One of the things I love about Steve is how responsive he is to his constituents. Val Little, a constituent in the West University neighborhood, approached him with the idea of using the glass to make sand. She learned of the booming global sand industry that has depleted river and ocean sand supplies due to dredging in Asia.

A sidewalk made with sand from glass.

A sidewalk made with sand from glass.

She coupled that with glass recycling initiatives in other countries, such as New Zealand and Australia, where the sand-like material was being used for road construction.

Kozachik searched the web and found a glass crusher for $6,000. He then got the go-ahead from city manager Mike Ortega, who agreed to purchase it for a “pilot program.”

When I asked Steve why he took on this project, he explained, “We’re losing over $3 million annually in our recycling program. We have to devise some creative new ways to do the whole reduce/reuse/recycle thing. This is just demonstrating that to city staff.”

He told Arizona Daily Star, “What I’m doing back in the garage is really retail scale to show the environmental services people that you can scale this up and we can do this on a commercial level. We can create our own secondary market and maybe even make a few bucks.”  The sand will be used for monsoon sandbags/mortar mix/filling alley potholes/cover at the landfill/trench lining…anything sand is used for.

I was grateful to have a place to bring the kombucha bottles that were piling up on my back porch. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them into the landfill.  So, I brought a few with me when I went to the Sustainable Tucson meeting at Ward 6.

Jana Segal and glass grinder

Jana Segal using glass-to-sand grinder.

If you were wondering why the Ward 6 garage smells like a brewery, it is because Steve first approached bars on 4th Avenue to supply him with bottles. He is currently arranging for more drop-off locations around town.

In the meantime, you can drop them off in the blue bins in the back parking lot of the Ward 6 office at 3202 E 1st St, Tucson, AZ 85716. No need to take off the labels, but please help Steve out by removing the plastic and metal lids and dumping out any liquid beforehand.

What’s next? Steve has the city setting up multiple drop-off sites around town, buying a commercial scale crusher, and letting Republic Services know that we’re not doing business as usual in the recycle world any longer.

By Jana Segal. This article originally appeared on Sustainable Living Tucson.