New nonprofit Epic Glass Recycling of Little Rock, formerly known as Ace Glass Recycling, is looking to put an approximately $20 million processing facility in central Arkansas that would employ about 50 people.
EGR’s Bob Crawford told Arkansas Business late Wednesday that the plant would likely be a joint venture with Aero Aggregates of North America in Eddystone, Pennsylvania. He said that company already has two of these facilities in the Northeast and is building two more, in Florida and California.
The plant could take 18 months to build or open, and the property for it has not yet been acquired, Crawford said. But EGR would like to see it go up at the Port of Little Rock, he said.
The timeframe for the project depends on when property is purchased, EGR’s ability to collect the volume of glass it will need to make its investment in the plant feasible, whether supply chain issues will hold up equipment delivery and for how long as well as other factors, he said.
When completed, the plant would produce a material that could be sold within the state to building and road construction companies.
The plant would produce foamed glass aggregate, a grout gravel or rock substitute that is made from 100% recycled glass but weighs 85% less than gravel or rock, which leads to cost savings in construction, Crawford said. He also said recycled glass doesn’t have to be sorted to become foamed glass aggregate.
Foamed glass aggregate has been used in Europe for more than three decades, but has not been used in the U.S. until recently, Crawford said. He added that EGR has spoken to several Arkansas construction companies that are interested in buying it once the plant opens.
He also said the plant would create a more accessible market for EGR, as glass recycling has been difficult in Arkansas because the main markets for it are fiberglass insulation and new bottles. Neither of those industries are present in Arkansas, Crawford explained, and freight costs can outweigh the value of recycled glass that has to be shipped out of state.
Crawford said the recycling industry has seen "huge investments" lately, including ventures with multibillion-dollar funding.
"A lot of these consumer packaged goods companies have set initiatives from a sustainability standpoint on the percentage of recycled content in their products or packaging," he said.
There’s even a shortage of glass and plastic being recycled in the U.S. to meet that new demand, he said.
"There's more awareness, overall, about recycling and sustainability throughout the whole country, and lots of businesses make or have that as a factor in determining where they're going to locate their business. And being more sustainable always helps you as a community and when you're trying to attract business” as well as families who have had recycling services where they lived previously, Crawford said.
EGR, which operated as Ace Glass Recycling until recently, has been in business since Waste Management stopped accepting glass items three years ago from the residents of Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and unincorporated areas of Pulaski County it provides curbside recycling services to.
Removing glass was another way the company adjusted to low commodity prices and the loss of China as a market. China changed its policy on contamination — the percentage of trash mixed with recyclables — in 2018. Contamination occurs when customers mix in things that technically are recyclable but are not accepted by the recycling company that serves them.
China had imported commingled recyclables in just about any condition for years, but won’t take loads now unless they are at least 95.5% uncontaminated — a level that curbside recycling programs have said is nearly impossible for them to achieve.
In addition, the country’s population is growing so much that they already mostly have the volume of recyclables needed there now, Crawford said.
Becoming a nonprofit
Crawford said EGR is a nonprofit because it hopes to access grants and other resources that could aid in the development of a statewide network of glass recycling programs.
He said now is a good time to do this, and to ramp up its operations in central Arkansas, because EGR will need more volume to make the investment in the planned processing plant.
The nonprofit currently has eight employees, and it uses workers as needed from construction company Ace Glass Construction and manufacturing company Centerline Systems. All three entities share ownership.
Currently, EGR is offering curbside glass recycling services to Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Maumelle, and free community drop-off centers in those cities. It has partnered with businesses and the Regional Recycling & Waste Reduction District and has started servicing northwest Arkansas, mostly by collecting from commercial partners that include bars and restaurants.
The nonprofit’s plans include engaging more commercial partners and cities across the state, Crawford said. It also wants to put drop-off centers in more communities and offer curbside service elsewhere. That depends on if there's interest and it makes financial sense to do so, since curbside service is more costly to offer than a drop-off center.