Situated on the edge of tiny Dunkirk, Ind., along a railroad line, a glass container manufacturing plant hums along as it has since 1889. This northern Indiana plant, just northeast from Muncie, is considered the oldest continually-operating plant of its kind in the country, according to its current owner, Verallia North America, the glass-packaging division of French company Saint-Gobain.
Inside the plant, the noise is deafening. Precisely-measured red molten globs, systematically dropped from a huge vat of 2,800-degree, glowing liquid, are molded into searing-hot glass bottles in seconds. Once cooled, the bottles are packaged and shipped — some across the country, others only as far as Traders' Point Creamery on Indianapolis' north side or Bloomington's Upland Brewing Company.
Meanwhile, at Broad Ripple's Union Jack Pub, scan the bottles of beer on the wall above the bar and you'll find Upland's beers, as well as others produced by companies that buy Verallia's bottles. Bottles consumed in Union Jack and surrounding businesses — known as Broad Ripple Square — are hauled away by Strategic Materials Inc. (SMI), a Texas-based company with a long-time presence in Indianapolis.
Within a week or two, they'll find their way to Dunkirk, Ind., and eventually return, full circle, to Broad Ripple Square.
Since 2007, ten Broad Ripple businesses have exported a total of ten tons of glass each month from the Broad Ripple Square area, free of expense, thanks to a corporate-community partnership spearheaded by Brenda Rising-Moore, managing partner at Union Jack and a board member of Green Broad Ripple, a local non-profit group.
It's a program Rising-Moore and others are eager to see expand. Yet, today, they find themselves at something of an impasse because of a familiar problem: parking space.
In mid-September, representatives from Broad Ripple businesses, the city and executives from SMI and Verallia gathered as part of the Glass Packaging Institute's "Recycle Glass Week," in hopes of at least doubling the amount of glass recovered from neighborhood businesses. To that end, Verallia donated 100 recycling bins, valued at $60 to $70, for distribution around the Village. Four more businesses committed themselves to the recycling effort, bringing the total to 14. Residential neighbors as well as staff from other Village businesses, like the Good Earth Natural Foods Store, are now carrying glass up to several blocks, just to keep it out of the waste stream.
Unfortunately, successfully doubling glass output also required a second large collection bin — the size of a car — similar to one already in place behind Broad Ripple Square.
Three months later, Rising-Moore and others are still working to get that second bin. Yet, with the added pressure of a flagging economy, every single parking space in Broad Ripple is viewed as potential revenue for property owners.
"These bins take an entire parking space," said Rising-Moore, adding wryly: "I don't know if you've heard but we do have a bit of a parking lot war going on right now."
Plenty of room to grow
Each month, SMI hauls the equivalent of 45,000 long-neck beer bottles away from Broad Ripple, each weighing about seven ounces. From there those bottles crushed into a product referred to by the industry as cullet, which SMI then sells to Verallia. Employees at the Dunkirk plant melt down the cullet to produce new glass bottles.
With another recycling bin in Broad Ripple, the amount of glass collected would increase to 20 tons. That's 90,000 bottles a month.
Verallia's glass products currently contain anywhere from 25 to 70 percent recycled content. But the factory has the capacity to produce containers with up to 95 percent recycled content.
What's holding Verallia back? Surprisingly, the supply of post-consumer glass. Both SMI and Verallia say they have plenty of capacity to handle more glass. After all, glass can be melted down repeatedly to create new containers.
Thus the urgency and importance the Broad Ripple effort.And yet, with a reported 30,000 people patronizing Broad Ripple's 80 bars and restaurants, each week according to the Inside Indiana Business, 20 tons might be a molten drop in the 2,800 degree bucket of what could be collected.
Many concede that the Midwest, including Indiana, has not done a good job recycling. But the incentive is there on the manufacturing side — not least of all because it supports jobs. The Dunkirk glass plant, for example, employs 362 people. More jobs could follow if recycling efforts expand statewide.
"There is one job associated with every ton of material land-filled versus ten jobs associated with every ton of material recycled," noted Carey Hamilton, executive director of the Indiana Recycling Coalition.
It's also cheaper. Julien Fournier, Verallia's marketing manager, said manufacturing glass from cullet uses 30 percent less energy than from raw materials like sand.
"It's a local story that makes sense for everybody — for the community, for the business of the bars, and for (SMI)," Fournier said.
There's financial incentive for small businesses, too. As Rising-Moore noted, the city doesn't offer curbside recycling for businesses. Yet it also requires businesses to pay for their own trash removal.
An arrangement like Green Broad Ripple's, in which private haulers collect a huge portion of the waste free of charge, doesn't just make sense for the environment. It makes sense for everyone's bottom line.
A local pioneer
Compared to the rest of the city, Broad Ripple's corporate-community partnership is certainly progressive. But Hal Yeagy, co-owner of the Slippery Noodle Inn downtown, was at the vanguard in establishing a partnership with SMI – 15 years ago.
With seven three-bin recycling stations around the bar, Slippery Noodle staff drop in bottles as patrons empty them. As the bins fill, staffers roll the bins out of the bar, through the parking lot, to the west side of the building where a large SMI bin sits.Fortunately, parking around the Noodle is plentiful.
Yeagy, who had always opted to pay the deposit and purchase beverages sold in returnable bottles, said beverage companies lost too much money because most businesses didn't return bottles.
"As we were forced into using throw-away bottles, there was a severe cost involved in hauling the trash away," said Yeagy, who admits he's not an environmentalist. Still, he recognized the long-term consequences of land-filled glass.
"We're one little bar on one little corner in one little city," Yeagy said. "The sheer amount of glassware that we were creating and throwing into a dump that wasn't ever going to go away in my lifetime, my kids' lifetime, my grandkids — it keeps going, because glass doesn't deteriorate."
A persistent challenge
As interest in recycling grows, the challenge that repeatedly emerges is the lack of space. Because of the development density in areas such as downtown, Massachusetts Avenue,and Broad Ripple, managing waste has not historically been a priority.
It takes the passion of someone like Rising-Moore to make it happen at the community level in an area like Broad Ripple, where "parking is a premium," said Lisa Laflin, former recycling coordinator for the city's Department of Public Works.
Laflin advised Rising-Moore in the early stages of the project.
"It took her a lot of talking with the other folks in the properties there to get permission, because you have to give up a parking space," she explained. "They've been trying very hard since that time to get a mirror project behind the Vogue. It's always (about) having to give up that parking."
Rising-Moore acknowledged that effectively communicating with other Broad Ripple property managers and business owners was key to placing that second bin. She is currently in the process of submitting the proper paperwork to get access to more space.
"After 31 years in Broad Ripple, until somebody tells me I can't do something, I just do it and then wait until someone says 'no, you can't do that,'" she said.