Q&A with Glass Recycling Foundation's Laura Hennemann

Q&A with Glass Recycling Foundation's Laura Hennemann

Hennemann talks about what led to the launch of the foundation, fundraising and making investments across the glass recycling value chain.

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May 9, 2019

A new foundation has plans to raise $1 million over the next 12 months. The funding will go toward improving glass recycling throughout the “entire value chain” to not only help municipalities develop glass collection programs and equip material recovery facilities (MRFs) with proper equipment but also to connect cities and regions to end markets.

The newly launched Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Glass Recycling Foundation (GRF) will work alongside the membership-based Glass Recycling Coalition (GRC). The foundation’s board members represent various companies and organizations, including Owens-Illinois, Perrysburg, Ohio; Strategic Materials Inc., Houston; Northeast Recycling Council, Brattleboro, Vermont; and The Recycling Partnership, Falls Church, Virginia, to name a few.

Recycling Today talked with Laura Hennemann, an executive board member of the GRF and vice president of marketing and communications for Strategic Materials Inc., about what led to the launch of the foundation, its role in the recycling industry and the recyclability and value of glass.

Recycling Today (RT): The Glass Recycling Foundation has been in the works for more than a year. What led to the formation of the foundation and what is the goal of its board?

Laura Hennemann (LH): Our mission is to promote the preservation of the environment through glass recycling through education, grant making and creating pilot programs for effective glass recycling, working in collaboration with other trade organizations in the glass recycling value chain. We want to raise funds and put money into improving glass recycling throughout the entire value chain. This could be through MRF low-interest loans or grants to generate better quality glass or higher recovery rates of glass through the stream, helping to develop successful alternative glass collection programs and educating residents, consumers, MRFs, cities and municipalities that glass is valuable and can be recycled. We formed as a result of the Glass Recycling Coalition. There is a real need to help solve glass recycling in the U.S. as demand for recycled glass in products exceeds current supply in many regions.

RT: Communities in regions across the country have been struggling to get glass recycling programs off the ground, even in states where grants are available. What are the biggest barriers and gaps in terms of resources for glass recycling programs? How will the foundation help fill those gaps and help municipalities and recyclers, which in turn will support the industry and end markets?

LH: A key part of creating successful glass recycling programs is not only committed MRFs and cities but also involving the glass processor. The foundation is comprised of the entire glass recycling value chain and is made up of experts who have been using glass, recycling glass or caring about glass for many years. We are working closely with the GRC to identify key cities, regions and areas that are ripe for successful glass recycling programs. We are using a carefully developed scorecard to determine how we can invest or get involved to ensure our programs benefit all stakeholders involved.

RT: What are the biggest areas of need to start a successful glass recycling program in the U.S. today? What will the grants and loans specifically help with?

LH: Our funding will be in low-interest loans and grants for MRF equipment and alternative collection programs. MRF equipment is a need because it helps keep glass in curbside programs, which means recovery rates of glass in the stream are very high. It’s convenient for residents. Better equipment or processes will benefit glass quality and will provide financial value to the MRF and the processor. However, this is only one piece of solving the glass recycling equation and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. We will evaluate how we use funds on a case-by-case basis. 

RT: How will the foundation work with the Glass Recycling Coalition?

LH: The Glass Recycling Coalition is a membership-based organization that represents the entire value chain of glass recycling. Our goals are very much aligned, but we will rely on the GRC for their “boots-on-the-ground” insight to provide guidance on our funding, as needed. Some of our board members are also GRC members, but the GRF acts independently. 

RT: What’s next now that the foundation has officially launched?

LH: The GRF has been in the works for over a year, but with the partial government shutdown, our designation paperwork took longer than expected. Since our documentation has come through and we are officially a nonprofit organization, we are in the process of raising funds. We have an aggressive goal to raise more than $1 million in the next 12 months. From there, we will launch our grant process. For now, we are collecting all requests through the website. If you are a brand who relies on the green nature or benefits of your products packaged in glass or a glass manufacturer who benefits from lower energy costs and CO2 emission savings or just an organization who cares about environmental matters, we encourage you to reach out for fundraising or donation options.

RT: What impact does the foundation hope to make in the industry within the first year and five years of forming?

LH: There is an expectation to recycle glass. It is truly one of the most sustainable materials we have in the marketplace and in the recycling stream. Glass is endlessly recyclable. The use of recycled glass results in energy savings, CO2 emission savings and other benefits. Glass packaging helps to protect the product’s integrity. Glass is 100 percent recyclable and a glass product can be purchased, recycled, remade and back on the shelf in as little as 30 days. Glass is ocean-friendly, inert and is recycled domestically. We hope to help key stakeholders understand the value of glass and make a difference for residents and consumers, local economies and the environment. If just one bottle is diverted from landfill from our efforts, then we are successful, but our goals are much more audacious than that. The recycling story of glass is too impactful for us to demand the status quo.