Smithfield business recycling windshields

07/28/2014 7:29 AM

07/28/2014 7:31 AM

A Smithfield business believes it’s the first in the area to recycle broken windshields.

Interstate Glass on South Bright Leaf Boulevard is filling crates with damaged windshields and shipping them to a recycling company in Kentucky.

“If it can be reused, reuse it,” said David Johnson, an owner of the longtime Smithfield business.

Johnson said recycling is a lesson he learned from his mother, who grew up during the Great Depression. “It’s a minimal cost to us,” he said of recycling, “but it is still something that we think is the right thing to do.”

Johnson said recycling had been on his mind for a decade. The idea picked up steam about a year ago, when he heard about a Boston company called Green Shields that was sending its broken glass to a recycler in Ohio.

The trick, Johnson said, is having enough windshields gathered at once to make shipping economically feasible. Green Shields can do that because it’s located in a large metropolitan area. But while Smithfield isn’t Boston, Interstate Glass also has shops in Cary, Wilson and Greenville, so Johnson figured the volume was there.

The next step was to find a relatively convenient recycling company. Johnson found Dlubak Glass in Lawrenceburg, Ky.

The first shipment went out in May, and Interstate Glass plans to make one every quarter, with employees from the Cary, Wilson and Greenville stores dropping off broken windshields in Smithfield whenever they’re in town.

Perhaps surprisingly, recycling companies aren’t really after the glass in a windshield, which is two plates of glass with a layer of plastic in the middle, Johnson said.

“The glass isn’t where there’s value,” he said. “What they want is the plastic,” which can be used in a variety of adhesives.

As for the glass, the Kentucky company grinds it into a dust that can be used as a filler in asphalt. The dust is cheaper than sand, a more-common filler, said Walt Johnson, who works with his father at Interstate Glass.

“That’s really neat, because you’re able to find something that’s actually a cheaper product than anything else out there right now,” Walt said.

Johnson said his company installs about 8,000 windshields a year. At 30 pounds each, that’s about 240,000 pounds of glass that Johnson hopes will never go into a landfill.

Interstate Glass receives new windshields in large wooden crates; in keeping with the recycling theme, Johnson uses those same crates to ship the broken windshields to Kentucky.

“We decided we would really kill two birds with one stone,” he said.

The Kentucky company pays just $300 for a truckload of broken windshields, so Interstate Glass isn’t making money on recycling. But that’s not the point, Johnson said.

“We’ve gotten great feedback form it,” he said. “Our customers like it. It doesn’t cost us that much.”

“We’re not over the top with (recycling), but if we can recycle it it just makes better sense than throwing it away,” Johnson added.

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