Like a jeweler appraising gems, Maria Ruano sizes up every kind of glass, from broken art pieces to beer bottles. "For blue glass," she says, "it's hard to do better than Skyy Vodka bottles. For green, Mickey's malt-liquor bottles. And broken window glass―now that stuff is like diamonds."
Welcome to Bedrock Industries, Seattle's only homegrown, for-profit glass recycler, and a fascinating place to visit. Step into the Interbay showroom under the Magnolia Bridge and you'll pass through a stone yard stocked with landscaping rocks and bulk-recycled glass.
Inside you see icicles for your Christmas tree, Stars of David for the window, wind chimes and sun catchers for the front porch, nut-colored tumbled glass for the garden path, cobalt-blue glass sand for your aquarium―all with the same kind of charming natural variations found in the crust of baked bread.
Overseeing production of these works is Ruano, company president and connoisseur-in-chief of shattered glass. Ruano has long been an advocate of using recycled materials; in her former career as a mosaic artist, she learned to tumble recycled marble, which she called "rubble." Eventually a small-business consultant suggested that she recycle glass instead of rocks, since so much recyclable glass was being unnecessarily dumped into landfills.
Every color imaginable
Glass is about light and color, and those things clearly fire Ruano's creative passions. "There are something like 28 colors of green bottles―champagne, olive, dead-leaf, and on and on―and we use them all. Or take brown: Depending on how we fire the glass, we can make it look like suede or oak. Anything blue sells right away. We use pure colors or we blend them into even more beautiful shades; you'd be amazed at what comes out of here."
Sometimes Bedrock's remanufacturing process is straightforward. For example, it has turned beer bottles with ceramic labels―otherwise not recyclable―into drinking glasses and sold them as six-packs in recycled beer cartons. Sometimes Ruano crushes glass into sand, or breaks and tumbles it into the kind of frosted pebbles you'd find on a Pacific beach. The colored sand is sold as is, or kiln-fired into tile, ornaments, and other gift items. The tumbled glass often goes into mosaics, which Ruano still loves to make; she also offers weekly mosaic classes at the store.
The colors going out the front door vary according to raw materials coming in the backdoor. In fall 2004, Bedrock bought a 20-ton shipment of wine bottles that had been refused by J. Garcia Wines. "Give us a whole bunch of any color glass, and we'll make something beautiful," she told them. "In this case, the J. Garcia bottles had fabulous color, from black to camouflage green."
All of which means that you can buy something lovely and distinctive―and something that Bedrock has kept out of Seattle's fast-filling landfills. Virtue and beauty do make a nice pair.
INFO: Bedrock Industries (showroom and stone yard open 10-6 Mon-Sat, 12-5 Sun; 1401 W. Garfield St., east of 15th Ave. W.; www.bedrockindustries.com or 206/283-7625); call about Bedrock's mosaic-class schedule (from $45 for three hours; reservations recommended).
Easy projects with recycled glass
Decorate a package. With ribbon, tie a glass heart or star ornament from Bedrock Industries or elsewhere onto a boxed gift.
Make a mosaic luminaria. Using kitchen-and-bath silicone, attach pieces of tumbled glass to the sides of a jar, then put a votive candle inside.
Color your birdbath. Pour a 1⁄2-inch layer of colored sand into the bottom of a birdbath, then top it with tumbled glass in another color.
Force fragrant flowers. Fill a cylindrical glass vase with colored pebbles of tumbled glass, sink paperwhite narcissus bulbs halfway into pebbles, add water up to just below the base of the bulbs, and put the vase in a cool, bright window. You'll have fragrant blooms in a few weeks.
"Tile" a backsplash. Install a magnetic steel backsplash behind a sink. Glue magnets on the backs of 2- by 2-inch opaque tiles and arrange (and rearrange) them on the backsplash to suit your mood.
Frame a mirror. Mount a mirror on a piece of wood that is four inches wider than the mirror on all sides. Butter the backs of opaque glass tiles with white mortar and stick them to the wood around the mirror. Use sanded grout in the spaces between the tiles.