Have you ever looked at the bin of glass bottles you’re about to recycle and wondered what happens to them once they leave your possession? Recycled glass is often re-purposed into something useful, but you may have not given a second thought about what those bottles will become once they are recycled. People who live in Arcata, California know exactly where their recycled glass is going. They also know their recycled glass will be turned into something useful and beautiful. Arcata is home to Fire & Light, a local business that uses a unique and forward-thinking process to handcraft recycled glass into stunning and colorful dinnerware.
The concept of turning one person’s trash into something beautiful is not a new one, but recycling may never have produced a product as striking as the items offered for sale through Fire & Light. The idea behind Fire & Light came into being in 1995, when a group of residents of Arcata got together with the Arcata Community Recycling Center, the country’s oldest continually operating community recycling center in the United States. The thirty local residents wanted to brainstorm a way to reuse the glass that was being shipped 300 miles away to San Francisco, and hopefully create stable local jobs for the economically challenged northern California town. The group wondered if the glass could stay in Arcata and be turned into something wonderful. They eventually decided that melting it down and turning it into beautifully handcrafted dinnerware felt like the right idea. John and Natali McClurg, who own and operate the facility today, purchased the company in 1999.
A Fully Sustainable Business
According to John McClurg, sustainability is at the forefront of everything Fire & Light does. “We are always looking for ways to reduce our impact on the environment,” he says. Re-purposing and recycling is incorporated into every facet of the Fire & Light facility. In fact, McClurg states that the 17,000 square foot facility, which includes two buildings, only uses half of a normal-sized dumpster per week for its trash. Energy consumption is also lower, since producing recycled glass uses 25% less energy than producing regular glass. Even heat is recycled, with waste heat from the furnaces used to preheat the ovens. However, although recycling and operating in a sustainable way are important to John McClurg, it’s a different kind of sustainability that really makes his job fulfilling. “A big part of sustainability is local jobs,” John says, emphasizing the importance of providing a safe working environment for his employees, including regular health and safety checks. Fire & Light employs 17 people, most of whom have been with the company for 10 or more years.
It is difficult to imagine how a bin full of empty bottles can be turned into such beautiful pieces of art until you understand the fascinating manufacturing process used by Fire & Light. Bins of bottles, separated by color, are crushed and then hauled into the manufacturing facility to be placed in one of several large ovens that burn at over 2000 degrees. Once the glass is liquefied, a Fire & Light employee ladles the liquid into a mold and then places the finished piece into a cooler oven to allow the product to set. The company produces nine colors of glass, seven of which are comprised of over 90% recycled glass. John explains that this is the difference between Fire & Light and other recycled glassware companies, of which there are few and none that produce the striking colors that come from Fire & Light. The glass produced using Fire & Light’s methods are high quality and intensely colored, unlike products that are simply coated with color. The pieces produced by Fire & Light are intended to be long lasting and highly durable; creating a value that goes beyond simply producing a product. Each piece is crafted individually by a Fire & Light employee and checked immediately for any imperfections, which are carefully taken care of on the spot if discovered. This means that each piece sold by Fire & Light is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece of handcrafted art. It’s made all the more impressive when you know how that piece of art came into being, and that the company behind the art has made it possible for close to 7 million bottles to be recycled to date.
More Than Recycled Glass
While the main process of Fire & Light is built on the idea of recycling, the business does more recycling as part of their everyday operations:
- The floor of their manufacturing facility is made from recycled metal from an old local sawmill.
- Each ladle used for scooping or pouring the liquid glass is placed in an old keg from a nearby brewery for cooling.
- Some of the shop’s presses are from an old New York glass shop.
- The glass that drips and hardens on the way out of the oven is either re-melted or taken to a gravel and asphalt company to be incorporated into the asphalt.
Even the shipping process at Fire & Light creates an opportunity for recycling. Fire & Light glassware needs to be carefully wrapped for shipping across the country and the company employs a unique packing material that allows for very little product breakage. Fire & Light collects old cardboard from area businesses, uses a machine to rework it into packing material and ships the product using this recycled cardboard material. In doing this, 1000 pounds of cardboard is recycled by Fire & Light each week. John McClurg mentioned that recently Fire & Light has also begun working with a local water sports company, incorporating their paper patterns as packing materials along with the cardboard.
When customers purchase glassware from Fire & Light, they are not just purchasing a beautiful piece of artwork. They are helping support a business that provides stable local jobs, and puts sustainability at the forefront of everything they do. The Fire & Light products can be found online or in many upscale shops for purchase. You can easily bring a set of these beautiful pieces into your home. While you are admiring your new glassware, also know that it’s not just the finished product that is beautiful; it’s the entire process of creating the product that’s beautiful. Visit their website, http://www.fireandlight.com, for a product catalog and a great video on the process Fire & Light uses to make all their glassware.