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Nonprofit organization expanding glass recycling in Arkansas

A glass drop-off location at the City of Little Rock Green Station behind a police substation at 10001 Kanis Boulevard.
Michael Hibblen
A glass drop-off location at the City of Little Rock Green Station behind a police substation at 10001 Kanis Boulevard.

A recently established nonprofit organization is working to expand the recycling of glass in Arkansas by offering curbside pickup for residents and businesses, especially in communities that are currently limited to only recycling paper, aluminum and plastic materials.

EPIC Glass Recycling has been in operation for the past three years and became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit on Jan. 1. It was created by ACE Glass Construction Corporation, which opened in 1986. There is a goal of eventually opening a plant at the Port of Little Rock that can turn the collected glass into products like bottles, containers, fiber-glass insulation and foam glass aggregates.

The organization accepts glass for free from 28 drop-off sites in central Arkansas, mostly at municipal locations and participating businesses. It has been offering commercial service for bars and restaurants and a residential weekly glass pickup service for a fee of $10 a month or $100 a year in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood and Maumelle.

Bob Crawford, business development manager for EPIC Glass Recycling, said the ultimate goal is to create a statewide network of collection centers. In many communities glass has not been among materials picked up through traditional recycling services.

“There is some curbside recycling available through different contractors through the different cities, but glass is something that hinders the ability to recycle a lot of the other materials in the cart. Just as other cities have done, they have decided to exclude glass, because of the challenges and nature of that,” Crawford said in an interview.

The organization has recently expanded into the northwest Arkansas cities of Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale. Crawford said EPIC Glass Recycling wants to continue expanding elsewhere in the state and is looking at Jonesboro, Searcy, Russellville, Fort Smith, Texarkana, Fayetteville, Conway and Hot Springs.

“Our goal overall is to increase the volume of glass collected so we can move forward with the plant and create jobs and have a good economic impact ,” Crawford said.

Currently, he said EPIC Glass Recycling has eight employees and uses employees from its manufacturing and construction businesses as needed to meet demands. With the opening of a plant at the port, he said that would expand to 50 employees.

With the movement toward sustainability, Crawford said he believes local governments will have a mutual interest in working with the nonprofit.

“We all are trying to work together in the state of Arkansas to improve sustainability and there is a good business case for them to do that,” he said. “We really are trying to improve sustainability within the borders of our state.”

Crawford said he wants the plant to produce the industrial commercial products that can be made from glass. Without such a facility, Crawford explained it would be challenging to make glass recycling profitable.

“We don’t have a glass manufacturer or fiber-glass manufacturer in the state. There’s not much of a market at all for glass in Arkansas, so we have to ship it out of state in order for that material to get recycled,” Crawford said. “If you look at the freight, it makes it a real challenge from a financial standpoint because the freight cost is about what you would get for the glass.”

He hopes a plant can be opened at the Port of Little Rock within 18 months to two years. Port of Little Rock Executive Director Bryan Day said port officials have spoken with EPIC Glass Recycling, but a deal has not been made yet.

“We are making this a priority and trying to finalize the arrangements, but we are not there yet,” Day said in an email.

A key advantage of the port location, Crawford said, is access to rail and river barge shipping of products to customers.

“The benefit of [glass aggregates] is it weighs 85% less than rock or gravel material, so things like back-filling behind walls, bridge abutment and insulating utilities reduces the load on utilities when you’re doing highway or road construction which is definitely beneficial,” Crawford said.

The American Society of Civil Engineers says a global shortage of sand is creating an interest in crushed glass as an alternative for construction projects.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.
Ronak Patel is a reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.