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'Clear Intentions' Recycling Company Working To Tackle The Glass Mountains Of Colorado

DENVER (CBS4) - Nestled between a junkyard and bounce-house manufacturer on a hill overlooking the city of Denver, is Colorado's first, and only, solution to specifically glass recycling.

I know, I know -- you thought glass already was recycled, along with other materials. As it turns out, only 17% of Denver's recycled glass actually gets recycled. That's 1 out of 6 bottles, a rate that places Colorado as 49th out of all states in the country.

The glass that does get recycled becomes a product made of 50% glass, the rest a mix of other discarded materials. While glass has the potential to be a renewable resource, this mixture will go to Colorado landfills as trash, accumulating to 12,000 tons a month.

How can that be? Well, the large compactors that collect trash and recycling smash all that material in order to gather as much as possible. Glass cannot withstand the compactors and crushes into irretrievable pieces, no longer capable of being recycled.

This is why "source separation" is key. Separating materials from the beginning can have a huge impact on recycling potential, particularly for glass. Plastic and paper can be sorted after collection, but glass gets crushed into useless bits.

Clear Intentions is making this potential a reality in Denver and greater Colorado. The company, begun as a college project by Brittany Evans, seeks to fully recycle every piece of glass that comes their way by acting as a waste management service.

Brittany is joined by Todd Lehman, Damon Michaels, and Tiffany Keen, who together work with bars, clubs, restaurants and hotels in Denver to collect their mountainous glass waste.

glass waste, Clear Intentions
(credit: CBS)

With the help of the second-largest grant in the state from Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the close-knit team of four was able to establish a true recycling facility about a year ago.

Finding a warehouse was harder than you'd think, because Clear Intentions came on the scene just as marijuana was being legalized, an industry that scooped up many available warehouses.

The team finally found one, bought a massive sorting machine, CAT tractor and heat blaster with their quarter-million dollar grant, and set to work.

Though some have to be convinced about recycling, let alone source separation, Clear Intentions is welcomed by what may seem like competitors. Single stream recycling -- where all recyclable materials are disposed of together -- damages machines that aren't made for glass, creating constant need for expensive repairs. Other waste management companies want the separation.

From bars and restaurants to Union Station, Clear Intentions does an assessment of the glass waste their client produces then provides the location with several 64-gallon carts. A weekly pickup takes all that glass to the warehouse, where the team of four processes it.

glass recycling bins, Clear Intentions
glass recycling containers (credit: CBS)

Manufacturers want their recycled materials to be as clean as virgin resources, so Clear Intentions handpicks every piece that comes through. Their trucks dump tons of glass bottles in the outside bunkers, loads which are then transported to the assembly line with the use of that CAT. The team stands 15 feet off the ground, sorting trash from glass, colored from clear, and large pieces from small into their appropriate chutes.

The processing line, by the way, is also a recycled material. Clear Intentions bought the machine from a company in Evergreen going out of business, thus giving it a second life.

Processing machine, Clear Intention
(credit: CBS)

Materials that can't go to bottling companies find another use. There's a 1-ton crate in the warehouse full of aluminum cans that somehow snuck into the bins at bars and restaurants. The team collects the cans so they can be turned in to the appropriate waste management.

Blue glass, unwanted by bottling companies (except Bud Light) because of the chemical compound needed for the color, is highly desired by artists.

The finished product is just as pure a resource as virgin glass, but without the excessive energy required to make it. Every metric ton of new glass created releases 700 lbs. of carbon dioxide as extreme heat is used to transform raw materials. By recycling existing glass, less energy is used and therefore less CO2 released.

Clear Intentions currently sells their impeccably sorted glass to manufacturers who crush the old materials and metamorphose it into a new product: bottling companies want the large pieces and fiberglass companies want the finely ground sand.

sorted glass pieces, Clear Intentions
(credit: CBS)

They're also breaking into the public with neighborhood drop-off bins -- like the kind used for clothes collection. The stations will be placed near grocery stores, parks, and liquor stores, available for the whole community to use. Local nonprofits will be in charge of alerting Clear Intentions when the bin needs to be collected, and for doing so will receive a donation from the company.

An IndieGoGo campaign is helping to fund these community bins, which can also be obtained by an individual. If you as a neighbor would like to host a glass recycling crate for your residential community, it's free to do so, plus you gain some neighborly bonding.

community collection bin, Clear Intentions
Todd branding their community collection bins (credit: CBS)

As a group of young people entering the old industry of waste management, the four wanted to make it fun.

"One thing that bothers the heck out of me is that recycling companies don't brand it or make it look cool," Todd said. He's beautifying those community drop-off bins with paint and stickers, to give Clear Intentions an image.

In addition, the industrial company hungry to recycle glass products has taken on a Steampunk theme, and not just behind doors. They host socials, considering a majority of their clients are bars, and dress up accordingly for any tabling event. They've been to a TEDx conference, bar socials, and brew fests, all great opportunities to meet people and find more who may be interested.

At Denver's Winter Brew Fest, Clear Intentions collected nearly 1 ton of glass, just from two nights. They'll be at the Summer Brew Fest on July 24, doing what they do best.

Clear Intentions team
The team behind Clear Intentions (credit: CBS)

Though difficult to work directly with the city, which has its own recycling, Clear Intentions has become part of Denver's 'Certifiably Green' certification, a sustainability initiative that recognizes companies for doing their part. Recycling glass waste through Clear Intentions is now one of those electives.

Clear Intentions is focusing on recruiting all the bars, restaurants, and hotels in the Denver area as recycling clients. These companies produce a huge percentage of glass waste, which could have another life if properly recycled.

They're also working with Union Station, the city of Grand Junction, now neighborhoods, and more in the making.

Clear Intentions understands that glass, though an unexceptional part of everyday life, has enormous potential to be a truly renewable resource. And that's exciting.

CBS4 social media and website producer Heather Sadusky writes about trending topics on social media and across the Internet on her What's Trending Blog. Share a story idea with Heather by clicking here.

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