A high-tech device that converts glass bottles to sand is on the horizon for the Unity Area Regional Recycling Center, thanks to a state grant aimed at new projects to divert waste from landfills.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recently announced grant recipients for projects that address solid waste challenges across the state. In all, DEP received 17 proposals requesting more than $460,000 and will award $129,627 to fund seven of those projects.

In Waldo County, UARRC has been chosen to receive a grant totaling $7,107 for a specialized glass-crushing machine that turns unwanted bottles into sand. UARRC, which has operated for the past 30 years in Thorndike, currently serves eight municipalities with a total population of 8,305.

Meredith Coffin, a recycling center alternate from Freedom, said she wrote the grant, with help from board secretary and fellow alternate from Thorndike Greg Falzetta, to purchase a machine that pulverizes bottles.

The final product, Coffin said, is safe and can be used in a number of applications, including mixing with gravel for road repair or use in winter road management. It can also be used in landscaping, sand beaches, mixed with cement or for sand bags. The sand can be put in 5-gallon buckets or 55-gallon cans for pickup or delivery.

This is good news, as the recycling center had stopped accepting glass about a year ago because markets for the commodity had dried up. Many communities had switched to disposing of glass through their household garbage, where it typically ends up in a landfill.

“There is a market for sand,” Coffin said.

Earlier in the year, she said, Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, who is also the UARRC board chairman, announced that DEP was awarding grants having to do with recycling. Coffin volunteered to take up the cause, having time to work on the grant, even though she had never written a proposal before.

Falzetta told The Republican Journal Sept. 1 that the UARRC board submitted a $10,617 grant request to DEP that included everything from the $6,000 cost of the machine, to installation, to preventive maintenance parts and changes to the facility.

As part of the grant application, Falzetta said, the center included a quote from an electrician to add 220-amp electrical service to the facility, but he declined to give out the name of the contractor, the amount quoted, or the projected completion date, saying UARRC had yet to sign a contract with DEP.

“We are working with the DEP to finalize it,” he said. “We are currently working to get a draft contract from them. Until it is signed, we have no ability to project a completion date.”

Falzetta said after UARRC receives the contract, it may have questions for DEP, and even after the facility receives the funds, "it is possible the supplier may have the machine backordered and won't have another one for 120 days."

The recycling center has enough cash in reserve to cover the $3,600 difference between the $7,000 grant allocation and the $10,600 requested, Falzetta said, though it does not have enough resources to do the project independently and be reimbursed later.

Coffin said the self-contained glass crusher has a small footprint, measuring only 23 inches wide by 53 inches tall and 30 inches deep, and weighs 150 pounds. The machine was developed by a New Zealand company that has been in operation for nine years, and has only one franchise in the U.S. currently selling the unit — Johnson Recycling Solutions out of Nebraska.

According to Coffin, Johnson Recycling has sold many units in the Midwest and more recently in South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia and the Caribbean.

Ultimately the glass crushing machine will result in a 90% reduction in volume, according to product specifications, and much less of an impact on the environment.

The move is an effort to expand and improve UARRC’s recycling services as it strives to be more competitive in the current solid waste climate, while at the same time remaining a useful resource to member communities.

The grant fit in well with the center’s strategic plan to identify new avenues to sustain UARRC operations, Coffin said. “This has been one of the pieces.”

The center will still need to do the electrical work, she said, and buy associated materials such as goggles, cut-proof gloves and lubricating grease. And of course it will have to jump through any additional DEP hoops like reporting to the state once the project is completed.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” she said, but added she was “very excited” that the project would come to pass eventually.

The UARRC board has come up with a couple of different ideas on the best way to use the sand recovered from recycling glass bottles, Falzetta said, but has not determined which avenue it will take. Options include selling the sand either to community members or municipal garages.

“We really have high hopes for this glass machine,” he said. “It’s been a vexing problem for about the last two years. We heard from the towns and wanted to be able to recycle glass.

“Once we get the machine up and running,” he said, “we will let the community know.”