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Franziska Trautmann in her New Orleans warehouse, surrounded by glass bottles waiting to be recycled

How a College Student Founded NOLA’s First Glass Recycling Plant

About This Episode

Recycling glass turned this young founder into a TikTok star. Franziska Trautmann was at the end of her college career when her frustration at her city’s (New Orleans, Louisiana) lack of a recycling program for glass boiled over. But rather than just stewing on it, she jumped into action and created the solution that she wanted to see. With the help of her friends, Franziska set out to change her city for the better with her company, Glass Half Full. 

Today, Glass Half Full is a company that collects glass in New Orleans and converts it to beach-like sand and glass cullet which is then used for disaster relief, eco-construction, new glass products, and so many other things. Glass Half Full reimagines recycling — and they collect all this glass for free with the help of volunteers too. Franziska Trautmann and Glass Half Full are making the world a better place one glass collection at a time.

Franziska Trautmann in her New Orleans warehouse, surrounded by glass bottles waiting to be recycled
Photo courtesy of Franziska Trautmann and Glass Half Full

Guest: Franziska Trautmann, Founder and Co-Director of Glass Half Full

Visit Glass Half Full and make a donation to support their work
You can also follow Glass Half Full on Instagram at @glasshalffull.nola and TikTok at @glasshalffullnola and Franziska herself on Instagram at @franzeeska.


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Climate change is clearly a huge problem, and we are all growing more and more concerned about it. But Franziska Trautmann wanted to take her anxiety about the environment and turn it into action. And that's exactly what she did while she was finishing college in New Orleans. She and a couple of friends saw how big of a problem it was the New Orleans for how big of a city it is, didn't have a glass recycling program.

And so she took matters into our own hands and she did something about it. And today she's joining us to share exactly how that happened. This is Sounds Good, I'm Branden Harvey. Our guest this week is Franzisca Trautmann, the founder of Glass Half Full. And in this episode, Franzisca shares the story of how she came up with the idea for Glass Half Full, which, frankly, is a very relatable experience. I think we've all had a moment like that moment because, I mean, frankly, it just begin with a single bottle of wine and then tracing the roots back further and further and further.

She also discussed her long term goals for Glass Half Full and how passion, curiosity in her own personal journey contributed to the founding of Glass Half Full. And on top of that, Francisca emphasizes the importance of being open to learning about new things to progress towards a better world. I just love this conversation about the start of her kind of jump start into the world of environmental activism. And I learned a lot about how I can be more intentional about my own waste.

And of course, we got to have a wonderful conversation about the nuances of individual actions versus the responsibility of governments and corporations and fighting for climate change and stuff. That's something you've been paying attention to. This episode is for you. So without any further details, jumped straight into our conversation.


I want to start off by asking you just to describe — what is Glass Half Full?


Of course, so Glass Half Full is a community run glass recycling organization. We started about a year and a half ago at the end of my college career due to the frustration we had over New Orleans, not recycling glass. And we had had that frustration for all the years that we lived in New Orleans and decided one day to just jump into action and create that solution that we wanted to see.


I just think that this is the coolest story because it's an example of seeing a problem. And then instead of waiting for somebody else to solve that problem, just stepping up and solving it, honestly, it's a very unique solution to the problem. It's a very like again, like almost like nerdy specific thing. And that's what makes me even more excited. And so maybe we can back up to earlier in the Origin story. So you were in college when you decided to found this is was there a particular moment that you realized that this was a problem that you could not let just continue and that you thought that maybe you should be the one to solve it?


Yeah, that's a great question. So my co-founder, Max, and I always love to talk about the Origin story because it literally happened over a bottle of wine that comes in the glass. And in college, we had contributed so many glass bottles to our landfills, unfortunately, and we were drinking that bottle of wine in our senior year. And we had reeled over this problem so many times. So many people in New Orleans hear them say, oh, "I can't believe we don't recycle glass."

"It's such a shame we drink so much. We're always drinking. It's a huge part of our culture. Someone should really do something about that." And over that bottle of wine, for some reason, something just clicked. Why not us? Why can't we do something about it? Why can't we start something to at least make a dent in this problem? And from the very beginning, we knew that we weren't trying to solve the entire problem. We weren't trying to capture all of New Orleans is glass that day.

But we were like, what if we just started with our friends and then maybe grow to our neighborhood and then the city and then the state? You know, that was always our plan was to start small and then grow from there. So it really started with literally that bottle of wine. I was like, OK, I can't throw this away anymore. And then it grew from there.


So what did you do with that bottle of wine and what was that next first step that you took? Because I'm I'm seeing you at the vantage point of you are supporting your entire city and your goal is to support the state. But what I'm hearing from you is that, you know, there were smaller steps before you got to my vantage point, of course.


Yeah. We started with our own glass and truly just hoarding it while we figured out what we could do with it.

So we kind of jumped into this little research phase. At first we were thinking maybe we could ship it off, maybe we could ship it to someone else who recycles it. And that was kind of our initial thought. And people were actually on board with that, like, yeah, at least it's going somewhere. And then the more we thought about it, the more we thought that probably won't work very well. Glass is so heavy, it's even more CO2 into the air.

That's probably not the best solution. What if we turned it into something ourselves and that's when we thought, OK, let's crush it up. And we found the perfect machine is very small, something that we felt was manageable, having had literally no recycling or mechanical experience. We're like, OK, this looks pretty simple. You literally just put a bottle in and Sam comes out. And so once we found that machine, we started to go funny based on that, like, look at this machine. We can crush up this glass in the sand. And that's just an easy concept for people to understand...


How did you begin to do your research for this? Because so on our end, we saw the problem of people feeling overwhelmed by bad news and recognizing that there is this internal negativity bias that everybody carries that makes it hard to absorb good news. Even when you see it, it's just easier to absorb bad news than good news. So the way that we decided to tackle it was to make a print newspaper filled with good news because we thought that that would be a very good way to, like, grab people's brains attention and help them absorb good news on a deeper level.

But the problem is that there is no instruction manual on how to make a newspaper in the year. At the time, I guess there's was like twenty sixteen and there's like you can't watch YouTube videos because all the people who did it are like 70. And so like the research that I did was just talking to like 70 year old men who have been doing this for decades. And literally like nothing was online. I can't imagine that there's like a glass crusher, dotcom with like a whole tutorial, like, how did that research process go for you?


Yeah, not at all. It's actually still so hard for us to find new information sometimes because it's just it's not out there. The playbook isn't out there, which it's kind of become a part of our goal to make this playbook so that other cities, other communities can follow our footsteps. But that's a great question. It really was a lot of Googling, a lot of Googling in quotation marks, you know, and you have to search for that exact word.

So we finally figured out, OK, most people are crashing glass with what's called a hammer mill. So then we're like small hammer mill, you know, and like and we actually found this company based in New Zealand that was so small at the time and only made these little small machines that are hand fed. And from there, that company is actually grown and now they create huge machines and we use those huge machines. So it really took a lot of Internet digging.

And luckily, we both grew up with computers that we feel to too daunting to us. But I love the talking to audiences. I wish we had that.


I love that, though, because I imagine you have to some degree, that experience with this New Zealand company where it's like, you know, you start asking some questions and they know some stuff and you know some stuff. And together your figure is about. And what I love is that it seems like there's maybe like a secret bubbling growth of this world of let's recycle glass, let's do this thing for our communities, because this organization in New Zealand is growing and growing.

And so it's cool to think about how that rising tide is lifting multiple communities.


Exactly. I think there's just in general around the world, there's a rising tide of people deciding to take on these challenges themselves, like this company, plastic world, I want to say. But they kind of do the same thing. They show you the blueprint of how to recycle plastic in your community. If it's not happening, they literally give you like the actual blueprint for, like, the machines and how to build them. So I think this whole, like, kind of DIY is save the planet is happening here.


So I guess I'm curious to what kind of expertise did you bring from the beginning? Because obviously I would imagine you've learned a lot on the job and you had the passion and curiosity and personal story. But did you already know things about climate change or recycling systems or engineering or anything like that?


I did. So I was a biology and ecology major, so sort of like environmental biology. And then I actually ended up graduating in chemical engineering. So I sort of had that environmental engineering background. But truthfully, we had no knowledge that truly boosted our organization. I think I think the biggest thing that we brought was passion and being able to get people on board with what we were kind of preaching. And that allowed us to have such a wider reach, like through Tick-Tock and through Instagram and those kinds of things to bring in experts who did know what they were doing so they could help us.


Honestly, that's super encouraging to hear, because I think that it would be like if your story was just like, yeah, I actually went to school for glass recycling. Then everybody goes, oh, well, I did. So I can't do this thing. But just the fact that you're like, hey, I have 10 percent of the knowledge and the rest I figured out with hard work and passion and talking to experts like that feels very accessible.


Exactly. I think the key is just bringing in other experts. Inherently, you're not going to know everything.


And the thing is, experts love to help people with the thing that they're passionate about. So it's exciting. Yeah. You know, your initial goal, you know, to some degree was just I want to make sure that this glass isn't going to waste because it feels bad that this is going to waste. But I understand that you figured out a few more goals that you were able to kind of go after in these beginning stages. And specifically, I remember seeing on your site, you want to divert glass from landfills, you want to reinvest in Louisiana, and then you also want to educate and engage your community.

Tell me a little bit more about points two and three, because those are super interesting to me. And it's really cool that you can have three missions in one.


Thank you. Yes. So our goal is not only to recycle the glass, but to turn it into something that could be used locally for good. So how we're doing that currently we crush up the glass in the sand and in New Orleans, we live in a literal bowl. So we're underground, so any time it rains more than an inch an hour, we're flooding and how houses, businesses and people combat that is usually by using sandbags to protect their homes during those times.

So we've been able to crush up so much glass, turn it into sand and create sandbags that we're able to give away to people in preparation for hurricanes and floods. And our ultimate goal with the sand and using it as a resource for our state is to use it in our coastal projects because we're also running out of sand for those projects. It's truly an intense situation in which we have the funding, we have the ability to build back our coast, but we're waiting on sand.

It just can't be dredged up fast enough in order to make a dent. So our long term goal there is to be able to help and supply sand for those sorts of projects. And then the third point, educating and inspiring our community is just something we wanted to do since the get. I grew up in Louisiana without access to recycling, without the knowledge of why it was even important, what it meant. And that's something that really hits close to home, because now I'm just looking back and all that waste that I like literally waste, I just threw it into a landfill and now it's buried up.

So being able to educate fellow Louisianians, Americans, people around the world about why it's so important to recycle and why we shouldn't be viewing all of our trash as waste and more viewing it as a resource, because there are other things that could be turned into like sand, which we're running out of.


How did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to take that like three pronged approach because you could have just thought about it as just the first point.


It was really just another aha moment. Very soon after we decided to crush it up, crush up glass and turn it into sand. We were like, OK, well, what would we do with the sand? Like sand seems like a sort of boring resource, know. And it is the most exploited resource after water, like it's literally used in every single thing, like things you don't even realize, like chips in your phone and like paint random stuff and then obviously concrete to create buildings and coastal projects and all this stuff.

But we really we thought to really get people into it, we can be like, OK, we're going to turn this glass into sand and then use it to build a high rise. But it sounds lame. And so we're like, well, what sand used for coast, beaches, sand bags, all of these things that are also really huge problems where we're from. And so really just clicks. We're like sand and then use it for the coast, use it for sand bags.

And then the third piece, the education piece really came about through Tick-Tock. We posted a TikTok or two and people loved it and they had felt like they were having the same issues in their community. And how can I help? And oh my God, I didn't even know, like, why we should be recycling and we just realized the reach that we could have and the amount of people that we could reach. And that was just so rewarding and something that we realized we wanted to jump on immediately.


You really are amazing on TikTok. Like it's just so fun to watch you and learn from you. Like, I hope everybody goes it follows you, like this is the right word, but it's like funny to see you building such a big community because it's it's you operating a forklift recycling glass. Like that's not what people expect on tech talk. Has it been surprising to you at all that you have built such a massive, like community of people around such a niche topic?


Definitely, when I always see those TikTok like helper people that try to help you go viral and help you grow your account, they're always like, you have to hammer home your niche. And I'm going to be like, OK, my name is Glass Recycling Forklift. It's like it's so very, very random. But I think that's what makes it attractive to people. It's something so different. And I remember like posting one videos, like I'm going to be the first, like, influencer that works in a warehouse, like just watch me like I'm not going to be an influencer that's going on like, you know, trips to model bikinis.

But I'm going to be like, oh, my forklifted and like, showing you how to recycle. But I think because it's different, people are attracted to it.


I think so, yeah. I mean, honestly, just showed up on my For You page, which is like TikTok algorithm, like knows exactly what their thing is. But it stood out because I'm like, oh, this is the first time I've ever seen like a woman in a warehouse, like creating a. Funny video about glass recycling like nobody else is competing for that market.


Exactly. Really? Yeah, I've got my market down.


There's this conversation happening in the environmentalism community, and I'm sure you know way more about this than I even do. It is about the importance of individual action. And I think we all grew up thinking that we could, like, print our homework assignments on both sides of the paper and that would solve the climate crisis. But then I think many of us, as we became adults and we learned more about the world, we realized that governments and massive companies play a much bigger role in climate change than many of our small changes ever could.

And I'm so curious to hear your thoughts, but I personally stand somewhere in the middle between, like systemic change, individual action, because I think individual action can result in systemic change. And that's why I want to be able to kind of fight for both. But I'm curious for you, how do you hold that tension? Because you've actually, I guess, created a system for systemic change that's brought about by a lot of individual action.


That's exactly my stance. I think, of course, we need to go after large corporations, governments, municipalities and get them to enact change. But like we saw in our city, that's not always going to happen. Or even if it does, it's going to take 10 to 15 years. And we don't always have that time. And I truly do think individual actions add up to something extreme. They have a ripple effect. Like I mean, I've got my mom to start recycling.

I got my brother to start recycling, people I never thought would start recycling and really take a look at those super small steps that you think are small. And then, for example, with with Glass Half Full, we started with our friends in our community and literally added up to in less than a year, a million pounds of glass like we did not. We only collected from residents for the first year of operation. We just started collecting from restaurants and bars because that were mostly closed due to covid.

And during that whole year, you know, you bring in 10 to 15 bottles every time you come. You don't think it's a huge difference. And then we're like, bam, a million tons of glass. Like, that's huge, you know, and that makes a really big difference. And so I'm with you on that. I think individual actions. Absolutely.


That we are going to take a quick break and we're back for Ziska helps me better understand the world of recycling and what is actually helpful and what isn't. And I even get nerdy for a moment on the process of recycling glass. It is surprisingly so interesting. You don't want to miss this. We'll be right back.


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I would love to just take a few minutes to kind of nerd out about the process of glass recycling, because I have so many questions. I know that so many of our listeners are also nerdy and so do you. Would you mind indulging me with some, like, specific questions about the process of recycling glass?


Please go ahead.


OK, so first of all, like, why is it important to recycle glass, like maybe just starting up at a high level? Like, what's the downside of throwing glass into a landfill versus choosing to recycle it and reuse it?


Yeah. So there's a few different reasons, depending on what you do with the glass. But just in general, why it shouldn't go to landfill. Landfills are inherently toxic. They can leach into the environment. They take up a huge amount of space and a huge amount of resources like millions and millions and millions of dollars to build. So the slower we can fill up those landfills, the less landfills we have to have in, not to mention traditionally brown and black communities.

And so that is one reason landfills suck. Let's not fill them up so that we don't have to build more. The second reason is when you recycle glass and turn it into a resource, you are now reducing the amount of virgin resource that you need. So, for example, if we're turning it into sand, we reduce the amount of sand locally that we need to dredge, which is a super environmentally taxing process on the environment, because you're just scooping up from the bottom of the riverbed, messing up those ecosystems that already live there.

And we want to avoid that if possible. If you are recycling glass into new glass, actually on a per pound basis, every pound of glass that you recycle into new glass, you save a pound of CO2 going into the atmosphere because it melts. It melts at a lower temperature. So that's a big reason why most recycling is turning that glass into new glass because it's a huge benefit to the environment.


OK, another question is, how does that compare to other materials like recycling, plastic, recycling, paper and cardboard? Is there anything unique or special about glass in that in that process?


Yeah. So the special thing about glass is that is it is infinitely recyclable. So you can have a glass bottle, crush it up, turn it into a new bottle, crush it up, turn it into a new bottle and it will not lose any of its properties. It will remain a perfect glass bottle, whereas plastic, there's usually about four to five recycling cycles that you can take until it's just useless. So that's the beautiful thing about glass.

Aluminum is is pretty similar. Metal in general is pretty similar. You can keep recycling it. It's also inert. So it does not interact with anything that you put it in. That's why things just taste better in glass. You don't get that metallic taste or plastic taste that you might get in other containers.


Would it be fair to say then that if you're at a store and you've got, you know, you've got a few options on? I guess like one option one is like a little like Bota box paper thing. Option two is a cannibalized option three is a glass of wine. Is it safe to assume that the glass would be the one that you should choose at the store as well?


It depends on if you're able to recycle that glass locally.


Really? Yeah. Perfect.


Yeah. So if your municipality does not recycle glass, then the cardboard is probably the best or the the can. But if you are able to recycle glass and turn it into new bottles, you one hundred percent want to choose that glass because it will never literally never go to waste. It'll always go into making new bottles.


That is so interesting. And then so you specifically take your glass and you crush it up into sand and that's the primary thing that you do with it. Is that different from other glass recyclers or do all glass recyclers do that? And then it's a decision on what happens with that saying next?


Yeah, that's a good question. So most large glass recyclers crush it up into what's called cutlet, which is larger glass pieces see utility, cutlet and color. It is what can be remelted and made into new bottles. But in that crushing process, to make it into that size, you will ultimately get smaller pieces which are like a sand. So usually big recyclers will use the cutlets in that to a bottling plant and then use the sand for something like fiberglass insulation or send it to sand blasters or whatever, wherever the sand can be used for locally.

But their main process is turning it into the. The larger pieces, those are all of the questions that immediately came to mind where I was like, OK, you're going to know more than I do. I want to learn. I'm curious, what's something that you've learned about glass that you didn't expect to learn? That's almost like a fun fact that, you know, people wouldn't think to ask or know.

Yeah, that's a good question. I've literally learned so much. I did not know much about glass, to be honest. My favorite thing about glass is that it's infinitely recyclable and can turn into glass over and over again. But through partnering with an actual glass artist, because we make recycled glass beads and jewelry and sort of niche products like that, I've learned that no one, each bottle, each type of bottle, color, size, whatever, will have a different what's called coefficient of expansion.

So it'll melt and mold at a different temperature. And just because of like the elements that go into making, for example, blue bottles, you put cobalt into it. And so cobalt fact. Yeah, that melting temperature, which has been super interesting to learn, like just the other day, my glass artist is like, hey, I need a new batch of green glass because this one was too mixed and it's melting at different temperatures being all funny and in this world.

But I love, I love like each each bottle is so unique and different.


I think that one of my favorite things about like doing something very niche is becoming an expert on things where you're like, I will never use this information again. Like I know everything about the newspaper making process and it is zero percent applicable to anybody else or any other future careers I could have.


No, it's so cool. One day you will be that like old person that people are going to be like, wait, how how did people print newspapers?


What's so funny? I've got two last questions and I'm going to combine them into one for you, which is what advice would you give to those who want to find missing gaps in their community, whether it's in the world of recycling or just another need that's unmet in their community? And then kind of part to that question is, what advice would you give to those who want to begin the process of filling those missing gaps in their community and starting something, whether it's a glass recycling program or something else that feels ambitious and big and wild?


Yeah, those are great questions in terms of finding the need in your community. I think understanding what you might want to see in your community, because when we started glass recycling, you know, we always knew that we had a problem with it in our you know, some of our immediate friends had a problem with it, but we didn't know truly how wide that net spread. And once we did start reaching out to people, we realized, oh, other people agree with us.

Other people think this. So I think understanding what you might want to see in your community, because that'll give you the passion to do it and then reaching out and seeing if other people feel the same way. And then in terms of getting started, I think I love what we talked about earlier about not being an expert in any sense, not having the formal education behind it or even really the connections and definitely not the money, but just starting anyway and understanding that you will learn as you go.

The funding will come. If it's the right fit for your community, if it's the right need, the funding will come and the people will come. The experts will come out of the woodworks to help you from literally all over the world, which is an incredible thing. And so I think using outreach to your community, to your advantage, just reaching out and saying, hey, I think this is the problem and I think I want to be the one to solve it and just see what you get that.


That's Franzisca Trautmann, founder, co-director and resident chemical engineer of Glass Half Full. Francisca is on a mission to raise awareness about and help change recycling issues in New Orleans. I highly recommend checking out the Glass Half Full website and making a donation to support their incredible work. And you should absolutely follow along with their brilliance on social media. You can check out what they're up to on Instagram at Glass Half Full dot nola and on tech talk at Glass Half Full NOLA.

Their TikTok is so good. And then, of course, you need to follow Francisca herself on social media. She is a delight. Her Instagram is Friends Ziska. It's F.R. and Z e. S k a. This podcast was created by Good Good Good I Good Good Good. We hope you feel more hopeful and do more good. And we just launched a brand new website filled with ways to do good, filled with stories worth celebrating. And I would love for you to go check it out.

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August 2, 2021
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Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

Every week, Good Good Good founder Branden Harvey sits down with the people driving positive change against the world’s greatest problems. Each episode will leave you with a sense of hope about the good in the world — and a sense of direction on how we can all be a part of that good. Episodes are released every Monday.

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