New Glass for Old

As Terry McDonald, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) Society of Lane County, navigated the congested Oregon Interstate 5 traffic near Portland, he was taken aback by mountains of broken pop bottle green glass unceremoniously dumped by the roadside. Destined to end up as dangerous litter or landfill waste, the glass was what remained of thousands of sodas guzzled by people in the greater Portland area.

The Aurora Foundry in Oregon recycles waste glass and refashions it into useful products.© Sherry O"Boyle

A passionate environmentalist, Terry wondered what could be done to keep this abominable trash out of the waste stream. He had a sudden flash of inspiration, and the Aurora Glass Foundry was created.

SVdP is a nonprofit Catholic relief organization that originated in Paris in the 1830s and has spread to more than 46,000 communities in 130 countries. On the international level, SVdP’s greatest concern is helping the needy with food, clothing and financial assistance, but under McDonald’s leadership the Lane County SVdP has an environmental focus.

Products from the Aurora Glass Foundry are made from 100 percent recycled glass, the bulk of which is window glass donated by BRING Recycling, a local organization that accepts used building materials. After the wood and aluminum frames are recycled, the glass goes to the Aurora Foundry. "Private parties also donate windows," says Patti Lamont, Aurora’s marketing manager. "A building contractor recently donated all of the old windows from a 300-unit apartment complex." Crews at Aurora clean the glass, crush it and add metal oxides that provide five of the seven available colors. Lamont says that the glass for two special colors—red and apricot—comes from stained glass companies" "cullet," the trimmed edges that would normally be discarded.

The crushed glass is heated to a molten 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, then ladled into a liquid glass "cookie" to be stamped into numerous ornament or sun-catcher designs, or poured into a variety of hand-carved graphite molds for decorative bowls, tiles or drawer pulls. The glass is then cooled very slowly (up to a week, depending upon thickness) in special 960-degree annealing ovens to prevent cracks and air bubbles.

The cooled glass goes to the finisher, who adds beaded ribbon, hemp hanging cords or votive candles. Finally, the giftware is offered for sale at the Aurora Gift Shop and SVdP thrift stores. All proceeds from the foundry help support SVdP programs—emergency services, affordable housing and vocational services—that provide training and jobs for people with physical or mental challenges.

The Aurora Glass Foundry salvages 26 tons of glass per year. The foundry, now in its fifth year, is one of several successful recycling ventures launched by McDonald; the group also recycles appliances, donated cars and trucks, freon and propane, and clothing, fabrics and books.