A woman making an environmental impact through glass

By Krysta Kearney

Do you love the feel of sand in your toes? Ever thought about what it is made up of? Typically it’s quartz, tiny little crystals of what the earth's crust is made up of. I know, it sounds crazy, right? You would think it would be a lot sharper on your toes than the soft soothing touch we all know. Well, what if sand could be made up of glass? If you can get it fine enough, it would be the same as quartz! Louisiana native, Franziska Trautmann, (along with two others) had the idea in 2020 to turn recycled glass into sand. Now, what kind of crazy idea is that?!! It’s actually quite brilliant, they figured out a way to get one of America’s largest cities to start recycling glass...yes, we said to start, they never had a program before, and on top of that, they turn the glass into sand, repurposing it sustainably to help save Louisiana’s coastline. Leave it up to a bold 23 year old woman to change the course of New Orleans’ recycling program to better the future and make the whole city second think what it means to be sustainable.

Trautmann was born and raised in the small town of Carencro, which is on the outskirts of Lafayette, Louisiana. No one really recycled, it just wasn’t a thing that people did. She hardly knew what it was. In most rural areas in the US, especially in the south, there is limited awareness of what recycling is, and in some places, it isn’t taught to children in school. Carencro’s country setting served as a nice childhood as she spent all her time outside, playing with her brother and other neighborhood kids. She never felt alone. As far as recycling goes, she recalls her grandma being the only person she knew that did it.

“I didn’t grow up recycling, I didn’t know it was really important. I actually remember my grandma being into it and thought, ‘Oh, that's weird, why don’t we do that?’ And my mom was like, ‘Well, you have to drive or pay for it,’ it just wasn’t really a thing where I was.”

Nothing was easily accessible in Carencro. In order to get anywhere you had to drive, there was no public transportation, it was even hard to get by on a bike, so the idea of recycling wasn’t even a thought when it came to town planning. It was so small that she attended school in the neighboring city of Lafayette. In elementary and middle school she didn’t feel challenged and it wasn’t the best learning environment for her, so she and her mom one day literally googled ‘Best boarding schools in America’ and she applied to one and got in. It was like that, suddenly she was moving across the country, as a teenager. Then, a total surprise and kind of a miracle in a way, the school paid for her tuition because they didn’t have any students enrolled from the state of Louisiana! It is very uncommon in the south to go to boarding or prep school, no one in her family had done it before, it just wasn’t something that people ever considered as an option. She went to boarding school just outside of Boston, Massachusetts at Phillips Academy Andover and loved it both academically and socially. She excelled and flourished in many ways.

“I learned more about everything, I didn’t know what feminism was and I was like, ‘Oh...ok, I’m a feminist!’ I learned how to care for the environment and things like that. Definitely (it was great)…they’re just ‘woke’ about everything in the Boston area.”

It was a very freeing time, she grew into herself, figured out who she is and her moral compass lead a new pathway in life. As eye opening as it was, in some ways she felt like it was almost too comfortable, how everyone she was surrounded by had a liberal and eco-mindset, whereas in the south she noticed a different outlook, one that was more familiar to her. She likes the diversity in Louisiana and finds inspiration in a community where everyone has different political views and education levels. It’s a setting she thrives in. Also, let’s face it, the New England winters are something else, and the cold weather made her learn very quickly that she didn’t want to stay after graduation, so she looked at colleges in the south and got accepted into Tulane University. This New Orleans private university is known as one of the most well-respected schools in the country. After four years, she obtained her bachelor's degree in chemical engineering.

“As seniors in college, we were grappling to comprehend two profound issues facing Louisiana. First, that just about every beer or wine bottle we enjoy ends up in a landfill. Secondly, Louisiana loses 100 yards of land, a football field — every 100 minutes due to coastal erosion. We realized we could solve both of these issues with one solution: diverting NOLA’s glass waste from landfills and recycling it into sand and cullet used to restore our coasts.” GFM website

In the spring of her senior year, she along with two of her fellow colleagues started Glass Half Full which is a sustainable and ethical glass recycling collection program. It didn’t have anything to do with a college course, it started one day while having a couple of casual drinks that lead to a discussion about the realization that the very glass they were drinking from would end up in the dump. That small conversation ended up sprouting an idea that became a small side project while they were in school. All of them assumed once they graduated that they would move on with their careers, but it ended up taking on a whole new life of its own.

“It was essentially a response to becoming more aware of the situation in Louisiana, how little we recycle and starting to realize how easy it could be (well not easy) but someone should have done something by now, essentially was my thoughts about it and we knew glass wasn’t being collected let alone recycled in the entire state. So we decided to take that issue on because Louisiana is known for drinking a lot, especially in New Orleans.”

By turning glass into sand and cullet, they are creating material that can be used for flood prevention, hurricane relief, construction, soil mixtures and even commercial flooring. Sand as a material has endless capabilities and the global sand supply is depleting rapidly.

“We collect NOLA’s glass and convert it into beach-like sand and glass cullet that’s used for disaster relief, eco-construction, new glass products, and so much more! We’re reimagining recycling.” - GHF website

It was the 2019/2020 school year when Glass Half Full launched. That was literally just over a year ago, today. The whole existence of the business has been during the Covid-19 Pandemic. At first, getting the ball rolling was incredibly discouraging. They brainstormed ways of how to ship glass to recycling plants and eventually came to terms that they needed to be the actual recyclers, not just the ‘cupid’. In order for the business to be successful and environmentally conscious, they had to do it on their own. At one point, one of the three founders backed out and moved on to another career, (which she doesn’t blame him) so now, it's she and co-founder Max, along with a whole team of help. It’s interesting that she went to school for chemical engineering and is now running a recycling facility. Who would have ever thought?

“I use it in some some research that we are doing, to possibly use our sand in coastal restoration and different product avenues. I use it a little, but even I sometimes am like, an expert should do this because I have no experience! Now I’m an entrepreneur, I guess!”

For the first year she was constantly putting out fires, learning the business and trying to figure out what worked. Now, over a year in, the business has become more stable. She is feeling comfortable and confident in her role. In the beginning, she experienced imposter syndrome, finding herself in a role that she knew nothing about and questioned even why she was doing it. She didn’t feel qualified.

“First realizing that, ‘Ok, I’m experiencing imposter syndrome, it’s common, especially for women.’ Just recognizing that helps me tremendously and I could realize, ‘Ok that’s that… (whatever it may be at the time) and it isn’t a fault of my own,’ and (second) just pumping myself up! Like, ok it's been a year and a half, people actually like it, it’s helping people and teaching people about recycling. Just reminding myself that helps get me through the tough times.”

She reminds herself that the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad. If the business fails, what can she do? In order to even get the business up and running, they needed to find funding, so they started a Go Fund Me campaign that was primarily for a recycling machine and a transportation vehicle. Within the first few days, they didn’t have many donors but then after an article was published about Glass Half Full, they ended up raising the whole 25,000! A few months later, they decided to have one more Go Fund Me and raised 100,000. The NOLA community has been so supportive of them from the beginning. It was all the money that they needed to get started.

Already they are generating revenue from their glass pick-up program that they have in place for both residents and businesses. They pick up from residents once a month for $25 and for businesses, they pick up twice montly. They also offer a free drop-off program.

“We’ll pick your glass up directly from your door - and convert it into beach-like sand for disaster relief, eco-construction, coastal restoration, new glass products, and more!” - GHF website

The business started in their backyard, in the neighborhood by the college. They quickly realized that they were primarily getting rich and/or white customers and wanted their services to be available to all demographics. In order to tap into a different community, when it came time to buy a warehouse, they strategically found one in another neighborhood that is centrally located and accessible to many, that way they aren’t servicing only one area and they are able to help the community as a whole.

“No city in Louisiana collects glass right now or even recycles it, so that’s step one. Getting more Louisianians to recycle and getting that glass to us so we can do something useful and then from there hopefully expanding to other cities that aren’t recycling.”

Eventually, they hope to take it beyond Louisiana too. Ideally to other cities in America, then eventually all over the world. For now, the impact on NOLA has been huge. Many businesses are now recycling and finding ways to recycle other items such as aluminum. It’s encouraging people to think about their waste and how they can in general do better. They’ve thought about adding on other recycling facets, having more of an educational aspect and supporting other city recycling programs. There are big hopes for expansion down the road.

“We actually had three field trips last week with 5th - 7th graders coming to our warehouse showing them our process, teaching them about recycling in general, what you can recycle in New Orleans and the different options. So education is definitely a huge part of what we want to do.”

For now, they are just donating their glass sand in the form of bags to area residents and businesses around the city to help them sustainably prepare for storms. Some local businesses have been purchasing their glass sand in bulk as well to be used in industries such as sandblasting and terrazzo flooring. Lots of time and energy is being spent on the extensive research on how they can protect Louisiana with recycled glass. They have partnered with ten professors from Tulane University.

“The goal is to use our recycled glass sand to restore the barrier islands, marshlands, and certain land that is crucial to our state when storms come. That's our first line of defense, the barrier islands, the marsh, and our state has tons and tons of money to rebuild these islands but dredging barges can't keep up with the amount of sand that's needed for these projects. So our goal is to be able to supplement the dredged sand with glass sand to be able to continue these projects at the rate that we need to in order to not sink into the Gulf of Mexico.”

For Trautmann, we only see a very bright future ahead. As a young woman entrepreneur, there is so much opportunity in her future. Prior to Glass Half Full, she had envisioned getting her PhD in Chemical Engineering or some type of science but for now, she is happy with where she is at. Never did she see herself as a young woman entrepreneur and boss! It is suiting her very well and she is starting to see the payoff of her efforts. Eventually, she can see herself branching out from just glass recycling but staying in the sustainability sphere, it’s just a matter of what and when.

The more that she gets involved in the sustainability industry, the more she realizes how large of a global issue glass recycling is. Many major cities around the world have never even recycled glass and some have recently decided to stop their recycling programs! In general, most of America is very bad at recycling and many programs aren’t cohesive for residents, nor accessible. In her free time, Trautmann actively educates people on recycling through TikTok and other avenues to help spread the word on how we can be better at this together and what simple measures each individual can take on how to recycle.

TikTok has been rapidly on the rise to becoming one of the most explored social media platforms. It’s easy-to-use video creation interface has allowed users around the world to get their messages out to the public in whatever creative way they like. The rising trend is helping people like Trautmann show their passions, missions, businesses, and talents and get them out to the world in one place that is accessible to all. Trautmann uses the platform to educate viewers on sustainability, recycling and woman equality. Her tagline states, Queen of Recycletok, 😩 Nola, ✨Forklift Certified✨, which is a pretty good sum of what this woman on the rise stands for. Her videos are fun, engaging, educational and goofy at times! They cover topics such as climate change, simple steps to recycling, facts on sustainability and videos of a woman at work, (#killinit) and what life looks like in a warehouse. Viewers connect to her videos, and the stats show it. She has over 54,000 followers and counting.

“My main goal with TikTok is to be able to read a broader audience than I can in New Orleans. I love being able to share my story and hopefully inspire others to take action in their city.”

Trautmann says that having so many followers has been very rewarding yet scary at times. She isn’t used to being in the spotlight, so it’s been very eye-opening, noting that the comments have been very interesting as a woman, there are a lot of comments about her looks, when all she is trying to do is talk about recycling. For the most part, it’s all super positive and she loves how she is able to share her thoughts with other people.

“TikTok is an incredible platform that allows anyone to reach a huge audience from around the world. I love that every person has the same chance of going viral or inspiring people. It's a super useful tool when trying to educate other