New campus ‘glass cruncher’ expands Georgia College’s recycling program

New campus ‘glass cruncher’ expands Georgia College’s recycling program

GC's new glass collection bins.
GC's new glass collection bins.
M uch like waves that crush rock and seashells into beach sand—a new rumbling machine at Georgia College breaks glass bottles and jars into tiny sand particles that can be reused in landscaping and other creative ways.

Operation of the machine recently began at West Campus. It saves the university in hauling, processing and disposal costs while ensuring a healthier campus environment. Recently, blue 64-gallon glass-recycling containers have popped up all over campus giving faculty, students and staff the chance to join the effort.

Glass is a heavy, nonbiodegradable material that can stay in landfills for hundreds of years, so we needed a way to remove glass from our waste stream.
– Cameron Skinner
“Glass is a heavy, nonbiodegradable material that can stay in landfills for hundreds of years, so we needed a way to remove glass from our waste stream,” said Cameron Skinner, who graduated in 2018 with a degree in environmental science and is now an assistant in the Office of Sustainability.

“With the environmental crisis we’re currently facing,” he said, “it’s extremely important to keep as much glass material out of landfills as possible.”

Obtaining the machine has been a three-year project. The glass crusher was the idea of a past SGA president, Amelia Lord. She reached out to Skinner and together they wrote a grant proposal to acquire the machine, which cost $14,000. The Sustainability Council and Sustainability Fee Program funded the project last spring.

Before this, Georgia College could only collect and recycle paper, cardboard, certain plastics, aluminum cans and tin or steel containers, according to Lori Hamilton, chief sustainability officer. Now, glass from recycling bins will be transported by trained students and staff to West Campus to be fed into the machine, ground and sifted into five grades of miniscule shards.

Senior Ally Esmond feeds a bottle into the machine on West Campus.
Senior Ally Esmond feeds a bottle into the machine on West Campus.

Junior environmental science major Ally Esmond of St. John’s, Florida, is a “materials recovery” intern for the Office of Sustainability. She plans to get a master’s in environmental engineering and work building water systems and refining water purification methods.

Esmond jumped at the chance to operate the GLSand Machine, which uses “vibration screening technology” to break hard glass into granules. Using earplugs and protective gloves, Esmond pushes glass products into the machine. Within 3 to 5 seconds, each piece transforms into sand. Some grades have bigger particles; others are powdery soft.

I like learning about all aspects of sustainability. At a bigger school, I don’t think I would get the same experience.
– Senior Ally Esmond
Screen technology is capable of crushing 1,000 pounds of glass per hour. Skinner estimates Esmond will process 100 bottles a day or about 500 per week. She’ll help with data collection and reporting too.

“I love my unique small-school experience and getting one-on-one instructions with professors in the research lab, as well as instruction from faculty and staff on things like glass crushing,” Esmond said.

“It’s fun and it’s good experience. I like learning about all aspects of sustainability,” she said. “At a bigger school, I don’t think I would get the same experience.”

Sand byproduct is used in gardens and other ways.
Sand byproduct is used in gardens and other ways.
Byproduct is stored in huge plastic bins until needed. Currently, students from the campus Garden Club are using the sand in West Campus Garden. Sand amends clay soil, making it permeable for better water drainage and healthier plants.
 
Many applications for the sand may be tried in the future, such as ground cover for volleyball courts, pool filtration and in exterior beds or to mix cement for sidewalks at the university’s new Integrated Science Complex on Montgomery Street.

Georgia College is also working with the City of Milledgeville to see where the sand byproduct can be used for municipal and community uses.

From what I know about most university recycling programs, it’s uncommon for both the collection and processing of recyclable materials to occur on campus itself. The university benefits from this model, because we’re avoiding hauling and processing fees. But it also serves as a great educational opportunity for the campus and community.
– Cameron Skinner