Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Stocking Glass Beaches

Local-America has only a few renowned glass beaches, all of them dating from when towns and factories would dump trash on some nearby beach. Decades later, the actual garbage had washed away and the glass parts were tumbled into smooth, awesome beach glass.

However, beach glass is gorgeous and people pick it up. Over time, the quantity diminishes if not replenished. Putting fresh glass onto a beach in active use is, obviously, not a great idea. Enter a solution ...

Terramagne-America has figured out how to kill two birds with one stone: boost the availability of beach glass, and find a use for almost all the "nonrecyclable" glass. First, coastal towns, artist consortia, and others buy a beach -- preferably a small one with steep rock or earth sides to keep the contents and access reasonably contained. Then they fill it with glass. This often takes a few years to build up a really good supply, but you can do everything from buy trash glass by the truckload to invite people to toss in whatever glass they like.

Here's a list of glass types that most recycling centers won't take:
Broken glass
Laboratory glass
Window glass
Cookware glass such as Pyrex products
Light bulbs

With the exception of light bulbs, all of those can be considered base material for beach glass. Several of them are among the best choices for it -- broken glass, glassware, and ceramics. Broken glass ages down into usable beach glass faster than whole bottles or whatever. Glassware yields some of the rarest and best colors such as ruby and cobalt. Ceramic pieces make an interesting contrast to translucent beach glass and actually become usable sooner, because all they need is to have the edges smoothed over. Thus T-America has a few short-period ceramic beaches. Thin glass such as window glass is more fragile but takes less time to age. Hard, thick glass such as Pyrex or lab glass takes longer.

People can also add pre-shaped pieces such as hearts or stars. Beads and marbles are very popular too. Not mentioned in the article, but enormously popular in T-America, is that you can buy factory miscasts of all kinds of art glass and dump that on your beach to be sea-polished. Slag glass, which builds up around glassmaking equipment and has to be knocked off, also works as raw material although you might want to slice it into smaller pieces. It's often available in brick-size pieces for landscaping. Factories get to sell their garbage, artists get tons of raw material for beach glass, everyone wins.

Once the beach is fully loaded with fresh glass, it is closed for a period of years. How long depends on your goal and your beach. For lightly frosted glass with its original shape, ceramic, and/or a pebbly beach with lots of action, it can take as little as 5 years. Typically it takes 7-10 years for an average beach to produce nice sea glass. For fully rounded, pebble-like glass and/or on a beach with mild wave action, it can take 40-50 years. In T-America, there are a few art beaches with a 5-year period in optimum conditions, some with a 20-25 year period, and very few at 50 (most of those haven't even matured yet). The majority have a 10-year period, with the middle of the bell curve spreading along a range of 7-15 years. The most popular is 10 because it's easy to remember, a reasonable span for most people to wait, and produces nice results that work for most projects.

At the end of the aging period, the beach is opened for use. Some are only for collecting beach glass, but others are multipurpose beaches where you can walk or play. While some of the municipal glass beaches are open to the general public, most are private beaches that charge a fee -- usually cheaper just to visit, with varying levels of collection available on a sliding scale. The big perk of joining during the closed period is that you usually get a lifetime membership cheap or free, depending whether you support the place with money, fresh glass, or volunteer hours. Local artists and tourists can pick up beach glass, driftwood, etc. to use in crafts.

Ideally, you want more than one beach to cycle, much like a multiple-bin compost system. In a 2-bin system, one is for adding fresh material, the other for curing and use. In a 3-bin system, one is for adding fresh material, one is for aging, and one is for current use. With a set of glass beaches, they are typically rotated on equal periods. That is, in a 2-beach system, Beach A will be open for collecting while Beach B is for dumping/aging. After 10 years of using Beach A, it will be closed for collecting and returned to dumping/aging while Beach B is opened for collecting, and so on. Because beaches can be filled faster than aged, often the closed beach will be separated into two periods, 5 years for dumping followed by 5 years for aging. In a 3-beach system, Beach A will be open for collecting, Beach B will be closed for aging, and Beach C will be taking in fresh glass. There is no need to half-step the dumping/aging process, so each beach gets the full 10 years per period. Over time, these glass beach systems build up a magnificent supply of materials which vary in age and quality. The process is sustainable because it cycles through adding and subtracting materials; the process of making and using glass in the mainstream creates a steady flow of glass which is not easy to recycle through other means.

*chuckle* I'm just waiting for some soup with a hobby of collecting beach glass to look at the now-overflowing garbage islands in the Maldives and go, "Aaaaaa how much for your baby glass beach?!" :D Seriously, all they need to do is stop loading new garbage and wait 10-20 years to have a world-class tourist attraction. Keep the one closest to the capital city for tourists and sell off the next one or two. Sink an artificial island platform in a convenient location and put the new dump there. Though really, the Maldives is shifting to much lower garbage production, since they're doing more with recycling and composting and such. "Aaaaaa don't stop the cycle! You need to pull out the glass that won't recycle easily and route to new aging beaches, or you'll run short of beach glass 50 years later." Yes, Terramagne beachcombers naturally think in decades. It's an advertised benefit of the hobby along with increased natural intelligence.
Tags: a little slice of terramagne, crafts, environment, how to, nature

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