While Boise's issue with empty bottles continues to mount, literally (BW, News, "The Glass Ceiling," Oct. 20, 2010), one Boise entrepreneur has revealed her plans to take glass recycling to a whole new level: by selling used, professionally scrubbed bottles to local wineries. The business, which received a conditional use permit April 4 from Boise's Planning and Zoning Commission, will convert an old soft drink bottling plant on Franklin Road near Curtis Road into a commercial glass recycling facility. Not only would Idaho Glass Recycling support the city's future vision of recycling, but it would offer wineries cheap, locally accessible and eco-friendly bottles. The company's owner, Carlyn Blake, said her new, green business has a primary challenge.
"We have some things to prove," said Blake. "First, we have to prove that the bottles are clean."
The centerpiece of the operation would be a custom-built industrial bottle washer. One manufacturer of the niche-industry visited Boise in March, accompanying Blake on a visit to Ste. Chapelle winery in Caldwell.
"The company I'm working with, Niagara Systems from Perry, Ohio, delivers these custom-built washers all over the world," said Blake. "But the United States is really behind when it comes to washing recycled bottles."
Blake's meeting with Ste. Chapelle must have gone well. She said the winery committed to buying bottles from her company.
"Everyone that I talk to is interested," said Blake. "But my price has to be less expensive than the new glassware they're currently buying. One winery, 3 Horse Ranch in Eagle, has supported this project from the beginning, and they're absolutely on board. Everyone else is just sort of waiting to see what happens."
One distinct advantage for Idaho Glass Recycling would be its Boise location. The closest bottle manufacturer is in Yakima, and according to Blake, some of its products come from China.
"There are only six wine bottle manufacturers in the United States," said Blake. "So no matter where they order their glass from, they have to pay for shipping, which can often cost wineries as much as the glass itself."
Even when the custom-built bottle washer is operational, Idaho Glass Recycling will need to be an intensely manual operation. Staff will have to sort between 400-500 different bottle types by hand before the bottles can be scrubbed.
Idaho Glass Recycling will share its Franklin Street space with Blake's other employer: Sustainable Futures. It's a good match. Blake is the executive director of the nonprofit that recycles bottles, turning them into drinking glassware for several Treasure Valley clients: Bittercreek Ale House, Cafe de Paris, Fork, Locavore, Red Feather Lounge and Solid. Sustainable Futures employs men and women recently released from prison, refugees and at-risk young adults. The nonprofit is shutting down temporarily at the end of April in anticipation of the move to its new home on Franklin.
Take a tour of the thousands of wine bottles that have made their way to Boise's "mountain of glass" below.