Recycled glass used for kitchen tops

June 24, 2008 7:22:53 AM PDT
If your idea of recycling is turning an old beer bottle into a new one, an East Bay company wants to change your mind. What if that company could use green technology to turn the glass we throw away into something you'd be proud to have in your kitchen.

It's a green idea that actually comes in a multitude of colors and flavors. It takes about 500 vodka bottles to make one 700 pound countertop.

An old Richmond auto factory is the home of Vetrazzo. The company was born in 1996 -- the brain child of a scientist working on his Ph.D., who thought waste glass could be turned into attractive countertops. In 2006, a new ownership team took over and began marketing the business as a sustainable alternative to granite countertops.

"We're able to sell it at a price where we're able to profit and give a return to the investors of the business, but we're also able to good things for the planet," James Sheppard, Vetrazzo president.

It sells for a $100 to a $150 per square foot -- about equal to high end granite. Vetrazzo is one of just a handful of players recycling glass for countertops -- and the only one based in the Bay Area. And there's no worries about raw materials being tough to get -- the state says Californians recycled 14.7 billion beverage containers last year. But, some of the glass comes directly from industry.

"Think of the number of Skyy vodka bottles being run through a production process everyday. When you consider typically anywhere from five to ten percent don't meet quality standards," said Sheppard.

But, those quality standards are no longer an issue when the glass is broken up, cleaned, mixed with cement, cured, baked and polished - even the manufacturing is green. The plant features lots of windows, and uses natural light on sunny days. The water used to polish the countertops is recycled. Between now and the end of the year, Vetrazzo expects to recycle 1,100 tons of glass that might otherwise end up in a landfill. And customers are popping up in places you wouldn't necessarily expect.

"We're shipping product to Lexington, Kentucky, to Birmingham, Alabama, and places in the Midwest that you wouldn't have thought. Texas is a major market for us," said Sheppard.

The company is installing new equipment and hopes to double its output by the end of the year. Their products can be purchased through many home improvement companies.


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