Glass Recycling at a Rural Georgia College Campus

Georgia College & State University

Date Posted: May 21, 2021
Submitted by: Lori Strawder
Sustainability Topic: Waste
Content Type: Case Studies

Project Overview

Glass has quickly become a hard to recycle material in many places in the U.S. and around the world. This is especially true for geographically rural areas with an already minimal waste reduction industry, creating a waste management dilemma for local governments and college and university campuses alike. Georgia College & State University (GCSU), a medium-sized public liberal arts institution located in the heart of Milledgeville, Georgia, faced this exact issue when it came to glass recycling. It was for this reason that undergraduate students submitted a grant proposal to the GCSU Sustainability Fee Program to fund a glass-to-sand machine. The innovative waste reduction equipment gave Facilities Management the ability to redirect glass from the landfill to what is now GCSU’s premier glass recycling facility. Since kickstarting the program in February 2021, GCSU has been able to collect and crush right over 3,000 pounds of glass waste. The byproduct, known as recycled crushed glass (RCG), which resembles sand in shape, size, and function, plans to be used in the landscaping of GCSU’s brand new $22.1 million Integrated Science Complex. The RCG can be used in a variety of different applications and has been considered as an economically viable byproduct and more sustainable alternative to sand.


GCSU implemented a campus-wide single-stream recycling program in 2013 which allowed for the collection of paper, paperboard, cardboard, plastics #1 and #2, and aluminum, tin, and steel cans. While the campus community was pleased that they could now recycle these items instead of throwing them in the trashcan, the question remained: What about glass? For years, the Office of Sustainability was forced to instruct students, faculty, and staff to throw their glass away due to the guidelines of GCSU’s waste hauler. Finally, a group of students took matters into their own hands and discovered an innovative method to recycle glass that bypassed GCSU’s waste hauler or any other third-party vendor for that matter. The solution was in a campus owned-and-operated glass-to-sand machine that would allow for GCSU to collect glass waste, crush it, and transform it into a sand-like byproduct. The project idea was conceptualized in 2018 and was implemented at the beginning of 2021.


The primary goals of the project are to (1) divert glass waste from the landfill, (2) create an economically viable byproduct that can be used in a variety of applications, (3) create savings from the revenue earned by selling the byproduct to external markets, and (4) develop sustainability education opportunities for the campus community.


The idea for the glass-to-sand machine was conceptualized by one of GCSU’s former Student Government Association (SGA) presidents who both saw and heard the need for glass recycling on campus. By working internally with fellow SGA members with guidance and support from GCSU’s Office of Sustainability and Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, a grant proposal was written and submitted to GCSU’s Sustainability Fee Program (SFP). The SFP is an annual budget funded by a $5 per semester student activity fee and is overseen by the university’s Sustainability Council, which is a working group of students, faculty, and staff who help direct campus greening efforts and advise the Office of Sustainability on projects and initiatives. Upon review, the Sustainability Council voted to approve the purchase of the glass-to-sand machine and provided the start-up costs for the project. Since implementation, the glass recycling program has been primarily managed by part-time student staff working for GCSU’s Office of Sustainability which is housed under the Department of Facilities Management.


The idea for the glass-to-sand machine was hatched in early 2018. Soon after, a committee of students who were a part GCSU’s Student Government Association (SGA) was formed, and the SGA President at the time charged them with writing a grant proposal to submit to GCSU’s Sustainability Fee Program. The proposal was submitted in the fall semester of 2018; however, it was not until the spring semester of 2019 when the proposal was reviewed and approved by the GCSU Sustainability Council. Following approval, the remainder of the spring 2019 semester was spent working with GCSU’s Department of Materials Management to receive final quotes from the vendor and work through all of the purchasing details. The glass-to-sand equipment was ordered in September 2019 and was received about a month later in October. Facilities Management staff worked to properly install the machine in a temporary location until a more permanent glass recycling facility could be constructed. The plan to begin collecting and recycling glass in the spring semester of 2020 was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down all campus operations for a few months. Upon returning to campus in the fall semester of 2020, the Office of Sustainability decided to further delay the start of the glass recycling program to spend more time planning the logistics of collection and until the construction of the glass recycling facility was complete. Finally, in January 2021, the Office of Sustainability had purchased and distributed 64-gallon caster carts to collect glass waste from around campus and construction on the glass recycling facility was complete. The first batch of glass was collected and recycled in February 2021, so it took almost exactly three years for the project to come to fruition.


The glass-to-sand equipment consists of two machines: one unit that crushes the glass in its original state and transforms it into recycled crushed glass (RCG) and another that uses vibratory screening technology to separate the RCG into five different grades. The cost for both pieces of equipment was $14,710. The other upfront costs included the construction of the glass recycling facility ($30,922) and purchasing the caster carts used to collect glass waste from around campus ($1,889.25). Continuing costs include the replacement of consumable parts on the glass-to-sand equipment as well as labor and fuel costs. All upfront costs were funded outright by GCSU’s Sustainability Fee Program (SFP) which accrues approximately $60,000 annually from student activity fees. Running costs are covered jointly between by the Office of Sustainability’s annual operating budget and the SFP.


The glass-to-sand project has allowed GCSU to launch a fully functional glass recycling program that provides economic, environmental, and social benefits. The success of the project has been noticed by campus administration, which has seemingly increased buy-in and support for campus sustainability efforts from university officials. The newly-constructed glass recycling facility also provides numerous educational opportunities for campus community members. In fact, the Office of Sustainability plans to begin hosting tours of the facility beginning in August 2021. Research opportunities have also emerged from this project; faculty and students in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences are interested in conducting heavy metal, chemical, and hydraulic conductivity analyses using the recycled crushed glass (RCG). Perhaps the most interesting outcome of the project involves GCSU’s all-new, $22.1 million Integrated Science Complex. When GCSU’s President heard about the glass-to-sand project, he charged the Department of Facilities Planning to work with the Office of Sustainability to somehow incorporate the RCG into the construction of the new building. As a result, GCSU will be providing 3-5 cubic yards of RCG to help create a “sand-amended” native soil for two large landscaping beds in the front lawn of the new science complex.

Lessons Learned

Many lessons have been learned throughout the implementation of GCSU’s glass-to-sand project. If you are considering a similar project, be sure to remember the following: 1. Glass is heavy. When planning logistics for collection and processing, be sure to take into consideration the fact that glass is a very heavy material. Make sure the collection containers are sturdy enough to withstand the weight of the glass and be sure the containers have wheels for easier mobility. Caster carts are recommended. Since glass is heavy, its recycled counterpart is too. Be sure that the containers you are storing the recycled crushed glass in are sturdy enough to withhold the weight of the material. 2. Storage is important. Although a typical glass-to-sand machine has a 90% volume reduction capability, it does not take long to begin accumulating a significant amount of recycled crushed glass (RCG). Be sure to consider where you can store the RCG until it is ready to be used in your logistics plan. 3. How will you use the “sand”? Yeah, it is great to divert glass from the landfill and transform it into an economically viable byproduct that resembles sand, but if you do not have an application for the product, you will find yourself in a sandy situation. Begin exploring how your college or university can use it around campus, or look to local machine shops or farm supply stores to see if they would be interested in the product. 4. Communication is key. If you already have a single-stream recycling program on your college or university campus, be sure to streamline your communication so that it is widely known that glass should not be tossed into single-stream recycling containers around campus. Distribute special glass recycling containers with a stamp reading something to the effect of, “GLASS ONLY”. Recycling can already be confusing enough, but with the right communication strategy, you can have an efficient recycling program with minimal contamination issues.



Senior Ally Esmond feeds a bottle into the glass crushing machine.

Senior Ally Esmond feeds a bottle into the glass crushing ...

Photographer credit: Cindy O'Donnell


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