When the US Department of Justice announced it was seeking to block the importation of plastic wine bottles in 2018, manufacturers across the country began making their own bottles.
A few months later, the company that made the plastic wine wine glasses went public, with the aim of creating the first glass that is recyclable and biodegradable.
And in October 2018, a company called Inter-Connex, which makes the plastic bottle and bottle opener, announced it would make its own glass.
As the US continues to fight the import ban, plastic wine drinkers across the US are wondering if their new glass is safe.
In a recent survey, nearly half of consumers said they were “very concerned” about the glass’s biodegradation potential, while another 28 percent said they “very worried” about glass’s ability to break in the future.
For most, it is still too soon to tell whether their glass will be safe.
“It’s a big question mark,” says Sarah Schleiff, co-founder and CEO of The Glass Factory, an independent glass recycling company.
“What’s really important to know is: is it recyclables?”
Schleif and her co-founders, Stephanie and Eric, met while working at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where she was working on a glass recycling project.
She had just joined the company, which began making plastic wine containers for restaurants and other businesses, when the DOJ began pressuring them to stop using the imported glass.
“When we started out with a small amount of materials, we realized we didn’t have the resources to go out and buy these expensive materials and build a lot of glass,” Schleff says.
“That’s when we thought, we have to build our own.”
In December, the DOJ filed a suit against Inter-connex, asking for an injunction to block their imports and to force them to reduce their use of glass in their manufacturing.
Schleiffs and the others who have been working to create their own glass were not expecting the suit to be so aggressive.
“I wasn’t expecting it to go so far as it did,” Schléiff says.
When Schleits first began working with Inter-CONnex in 2017, she had no idea what she was getting into.
“At the time, it wasn’t a big concern,” she says.
She began working on her glass recycling projects, including one with a company in North Carolina that made plastic wine cups, because she was concerned that the government was pressuring her to make glass bottles.
After the government issued the lawsuit, she and her partners found that the glass manufacturers were already struggling to meet federal recycling standards.
“We were really just trying to make it so we could continue to sell the glass,” she recalls.
“Then, one of the glass manufactures had a contract with the US Postal Service, which required them to ship out a whole bunch of glass containers to the US.”
After the companies shipped the containers to California, they were not able to ship them back to North Carolina because the USPS was unable to deliver the containers, Schleife says.
And, when Schleies tried to ship the glass back to California to be recycled, the USPS said it was not able because the glass would have to be shipped back to a third party.
So, she started making her own glass and selling it at local markets.
The business grew from a handful of people to a multi-million-dollar business.
Since then, Schlesif and the other glass recyclers have made thousands of glass bottles, as well as other types of glass.
In January 2019, Inter-consnex announced it had secured a $3.4 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security, which is helping the company with its recycling efforts.
But for many in the industry, the funding will be difficult to come by.
“This is not a large grant for a company that’s only made one-third of what they’re going to make this year,” says Schleief, who estimates that Inter-Consnex’s glass bottles make up roughly 30 percent of their business.
Inter-continent Glass is a recycling company that works with recyclants in Asia and the US.
In addition to glass bottles and wine cups and bottles, it also makes other recyclible products, including reusable bags, paper products, and solar panels.
But the company does not make plastic bottles.
“As far as we know, we do not make the plastic bottles we sell,” Schlesiff says, explaining that the plastic containers are made by the manufacturer of the other bottles.
And Inter- CONnex does not have a facility to process the recyclabables it creates.
“There are not any places in the world where we can make that stuff,” Schlemings explains.
“And we’ve got to make that glass to make them.”
Schleicell says that he and the rest of his team have been in the business for about a decade