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From Glass to Sand

From Glass to Sand

WWU Enactus Club Starts Glass Recycling Program and Uses its Projects to Benefit the Community  

By Annaliese Grellmann 

Her innovation started small, simply by putting recycling bins in the dorm laundry rooms, then became something larger: turning glass bottles into sand. McKenna Butler, a junior product design major at Walla Walla University, is the project design manager for the Enactus Recycling Program. [1] 

Crushed glass is sifted to become sand. Photo by Chris Lueck.

According to Butler, “Enactus is a worldwide organization of peers who make a difference in their communities.” Enactus has 1,730 university programs in 36 countries around the world. [2] Their mission is to “engage the next generation of entrepreneurial leaders to use innovation and business principles to improve the world.” According to Butler, this is the third year of operation for the Walla Walla Chapter of Enactus, led by the president of the club, WWU student Josh Beaudoin.  

Before joining Enactus, Butler had taken the initiative to start recycling on her own. She said, “I was taking recycling to the recycling center over by the penitentiary.” When she learned that there were recycling bins in the basement of the girls’ dorm, she asked if she could take a few and put them in her hall. Floor by floor she started putting recycling bins in the laundry rooms with signs explaining what she was collecting. “It was huge. A ton of people did it,” she said. 

Last year, when Butler was studying in Bowers, a pop-up display advertising Enactus caught her attention. They were looking for volunteers who were interested in helping to recycle glass. Already invested in the importance of recycling, she emailed them saying she was interested.   

This machine pulverizes glass into a course mixture. Photo by Josh Beaudoin. 

The Enactus Recycling Program is in partnership with a community member named Chris Lueck, who bought an Expleco glass recycling machine from New Zealand. Founded in 2009, the Expleco company manufactures glass bottle crushers to create efficient recycling systems. [3] The company’s goal is to create sustainable solutions that assist other companies in minimizing their operational footprint.  

Chris was inspired by this sustainable solution and bought an Expleco machine so he could start recycling here in the Walla Walla Valley. He reached out to the Enactus club, asking if they wanted to partner with him. Last year, after a large number of club members graduated, Butler took on the role of manager for the project.  

The machine takes glass bottles, crushes them, and turns them into sand. According to Butler, if the glass doesn’t have any residue inside or labeling on the outside, the machine turns the glass into pure silica. The Expleco machine was originally created to produce sand that New Zealand and Australia can buy to put on their beaches. Lueck was inspired by this unique way of recycling, so he bought a machine of his own and asked Enactus if they wanted to start a recycling program in Walla Walla.   

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The recycling project is now accepting glass bottles. University students and community members can drop off their glass in collection bins behind the village housing office. In addition, Carte Coffee, a local business, has agreed to start cleaning out their syrup bottles and recycling them through Enactus, which Butler said is “a huge addition to our recycling program.”  

In the future, Enactus is interested in producing enough sand to make sandbags so that if there is flooding in the valley, they can sell them for a low cost to help the community. They’re also looking into using the sand to create a pathway in Enactus’ other current project: a community garden.  

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The Enactus club, led by project manager and junior accounting major Nicholas Cueto, is working on a community garden near City Hall, behind the fire department. They partnered with Home Depot and the management of College Place to build garden beds. She said, “It has really come a long way since we started it.” The soft opening happened on April 25. 

Since starting with Enactus, Butler said she’s learned just how many details go into bringing a project to fruition. When she took on the job as project manager, she said she was handed the bare bones of the project and expected the rest of it to be fast and easy. Instead, she said it took months to check all the boxes on a long list of to-dos before they could start doing anything at all. “Now I know how much really goes into the business; the nitty-gritty of starting a project,” she said. 

These projects are not simple operations. “There is a lot of strategic planning,” Butler said. “Our sponsor really pushes us to think deeply about making sure it’s economically sustainable, if it’s going to continue in the future, if we are negotiating with businesses, and if we are building business relations.” Enactus is actually a business club, although students of any major can join. Many of the club’s volunteers come from a partnership with a one credit business class that’s offered at WWU.   

Butler volunteers around five to six hours a week, but she said anyone interested in volunteering can put in as little or as much time as they want. “It’s made possible by students,” Butler said of the Enactus projects. “In order to make these projects happen, with the community garden and the glass recycling program, we really need people to step up if they have any passion at all for community work. We could use them.” With innovation and initiative, students like Butler are coming up with creative and sustainable solutions that benefit the community right here in the Walla Walla Valley.  

References 

  1. Interview with M. Butler, 4/21/2021. 
  1. Enactus. (n.d.). Our Story. https://enactus.org/who-we-are/our-story/.  
  1. Expleco limited. (n.d.). About.  https://www.expleco.com/.  
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