By Pia Heyert
Photo by Mathieu Cheze on Unsplash
New Orleans is full of culture, creativity, and excitement. But does the rush of parades, festivals, and activities contribute to an environment teetering on catastrophe and can anyone do something about it without sapping the mojo out of the Crescent City? New Orleans’s environmental problems are just as much of a concern as any other busy city, and some might argue more so because parts of the city is eight feet below sea level.
Meet Max Steitz, the founder of Glass Half Full, a New Orleans based non-profit “converting NOLA’s recycled glass into sand used for disaster relief, coastal restoration, and so much more.” Glass is one of the easiest materials to recycle and reuse and New Orleans is a place that produces hundreds of thousands of tons of glass each year. Max and his team saw how through ingenuity, education, and determination a clear path from party trash to sustainable restoration material is possible.
Before founding Glass Half Full, Max Steitz co-founded Plant the Peace. Plant The Peace started off by planting trees around the globe and it is up to 18,000+ trees planted today. The company also organizes global beach cleanups and is investigating other opportunities to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. This is when the idea for Glass Half Full was born. Steitz felt that he and his colleagues were hurting the city of New Orleans instead of helping it: “Every Friday night we would contribute to this problem because every single beer bottle or wine bottle we consumed ended up in the landfill.” Every single glass product in New Orleans has to be thrown in the trash – the city’s recycling system does not accept glass. Just a month ago, Steitz’s organization decided to start a glass donation program free to New Orleans residents, he felt the city isn’t putting enough effort in sustainability initiatives so he started one. He says “we discovered a problem in New Orleans that wasn’t being addressed by any government program. We thought, ok, let’s take action.” But Steitz and his colleagues were also motivated by something bigger than filling up all the landfills- New Orleans is sinking.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 11.4 million tons of glass products were produced in the United States in 2017. Approximately 7 million tons of this glass was thrown into landfill and only 1.5 million tons was combusted with energy recovery. Less than four million tons were recycled. Like many in the Crescent City, Steitz knows Louisiana is losing land at a constant rate. Along with that, the United States Geological Survey states that Louisiana is losing 83.5 square kilometers per year, which is equivalent to losing an NFL football field every 34 minutes. This is the main reason Steitz wants to start his glass-to-sand project. “We’re losing so much land every single minute due to coastal erosion, setting up this system could do some real good for the city,” Steitz says. Additionally, Steitz sees the opportunity to help undeserved communities in New Orleans not only learn why recycling is an important part of a plan to build healthy, sustainable cities, but also how simple everyday actions can help save the planet.
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, Steitz has had to shut down his glass recycling project temporarily to help flatten the curve of infections and deaths due to the virus. Steitz says that he and his co-workers plan to reopen their organization after the quarantine: “We plan to implement a glass quarantine process to ensure the safety of the New Orleans community.” He’s well on his way to helping us help ourselves and with a bit of luck, Glass Half Full’s distinctive blue collection barrels will be on our streets soon. If you want to learn more or join the cause, check out Max’s site dedicated to helping us use sand from recycled glass to fight the effects of climate change Glass Half Full New Orleans.