Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz hold bottles of glass sand

Best in Glass

Co-founded by Tulanians Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz, Glass Half Full is a New Orleans glass recycling enterprise on a mission to restore coastal land.

(Photos by Jennifer Zdon)

While sharing a glass of wine in the spring 2020 semester of their senior year at Tulane, Franziska Trautmann and Max Steitz lamented the fact that the bottle from which they were pouring would inevitably end up in a landfill. They decided something needed to be done.

Since there wasn’t curbside glass recycling available to New Orleans residents, the two hatched a plan to recycle glass. While recycling glass to make other glass products is common in the United States and other countries, Trautmann and Steitz found a small machine that crushed glass into sand.

“That’s when it clicked because we knew that here in New Orleans, we need sand for so many things — coastal restoration and disaster relief being the main ones,” Trautmann said.

Recognizing they needed more resources to make the plan work long-term, the two started a GoFundMe page.

“And then a reporter at The Times-Picayune decided to do a story on it,” Trautmann said.

Within one week after the story was published, they reached their $10,000 fundraising goal.

“That was the fire that got us going — that community buy-in, literally; giving us money to make this happen and us wanting to do right on that promise,” she said.

That promise turned into the launch of Glass Half Full, a glass recycling program that collects glass from residents and businesses and converts it into sand for coastal restoration and disaster relief. The glass is also repurposed for use in construction and the manufacturing of art, jewelry and other products.

Now, three years since its inception, the Glass Half Full team has gone from an uptown backyard operation using a small machine that crushed one bottle at a time to a Desire neighborhood 40,000-square-foot facility on Louisa Street with a pulverizing machine that has successfully recycled over 3.5 million pounds of glass.

Trautmann, from Carencro, Louisiana, is chief executive officer. She received a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a major in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the School of Science and Engineering in 2020. Steitz, from New York City, is chief operating officer and chief financial officer. He is a political science/international development and international relations major — with a few more credits left to graduate from the School of Liberal Arts.

Trautmann’s and Steitz’s hometowns and upbringings have merged well in achieving the Glass Half Full mission.

“I think being from a small town in Louisiana, growing up around the environment, I had that passion and care for the environment without, for lack of better words, the governmental programs to support that,” Trautmann said. “Whereas Max grew up in the ‘Concrete City,’ with not as much access to the environment, but with recycling governmental programs.”

“We didn’t expect so many people to care about recycling. Having people bring us their glass and be excited about this and pay for us to pick up their glass, that’s been super incredible.”

Franziska Trautmann

a very large pile of recycled glass bottles in a warehouse
Items in the “glass mountain” are sorted by color and eventually ground into sand.

Crushing It

Glass Half Full collects glass in several ways. Residents of any parish can drop off their glass for free, three days a week, at the Glass Half Full facility on Louisa Street. Collection bins are also available at locations in the Lower Ninth Ward, Algiers and Bywater neighborhoods. In partnership with the City of New Orleans, Glass Half Full’s collection bins are available at the Elysian Fields Recycling Center where residents can drop off up to 50 pounds of glass.

Residents in the Greater New Orleans area can also pay for monthly pickups.

Businesses and large-scale event organizers can sign up for commercial pickups. Glass Half Full has worked with events like the French Quarter Festival, Buku Fest and Satchmo Summerfest.

This spring, the Tulane Office of Sustainability partnered with Glass Half Full to bring eight Glass Half Full collection hubs to the uptown campus. This effort is projected to divert a quarter million pounds of glass annually from local landfills.

After collection, corks, plastic and metal caps are removed, and the glass is sorted into piles at the Louisa Street facility — the largest of the piles is dubbed the “glass mountain.”  The glass is front-loaded into a pulverizing machine. From the machine’s receptacle, glass moves at a pre-fixed speed along a series of conveyor belts to be pulverized by hammer-mill crushers. The machine sifts the glass, separating the non-glass parts such as labels. The machine’s output is recycled glass sand.

glass sand flows through a pair of hands

The sand is crushed coarse — in the range of 0.4 to 1.7 mm, like the size of sprinkles or glitter — or fine, like what you see on powdery beaches. Steitz said the coarse sand is what’s used for coastal restoration since water doesn’t wash coarse sand away as easily as finer sand.

For coastal restoration projects, the sand is bagged in burlap sacks since burlap is biodegradable. Even the burlap has been repurposed, Steitz explained, with local coffee suppliers such as PJ’s Coffee and French Truck Coffee donating bags that once were filled with coffee beans. The bags of sand are transported by truck and then by boat to coastal restoration project sites.

wine corks and plastic caps sorted in piles and barrels
Extras such as wine corks and plastic caps have been salvaged from glass bottles and jars and will be recycled later.


Being the chemical engineer that she is, Trautmann knew that recycled glass sand would need to be researched to make sure it’s safe for the environment before putting it to use.

Trautmann and Steitz collaborated with Katie Russell, senior professor of practice in Tulane’s Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and her service-learning class to examine the material characterization of the glass sand. Russell brought in Julie Albert, associate professor in the department, to help.

Albert made the Glass Half Full team aware of funding available through the National Science Foundation’s Convergence Accelerator, whose Networked Blue Economy research track focuses on interconnecting the blue economy (the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth) and accelerating convergence across ocean sectors to produce innovative tools, techniques, methods and educational resources, as well as solutions that improve human engagement with oceans.

The Networked Blue Economy is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “a sustainable and equitable ocean and coastal economy that optimizes advances in science and technology to create value-added, data-driven economic opportunities and solutions to pressing societal needs.”

“This is a program that aims to accelerate research out of labs and into practice using a variety of convergent, use-inspired approaches,” Albert said.

“We said, ‘OK, what are the questions that we need to answer, from a research standpoint, to actually get the glass sand into practice for coastal restoration projects?’” Albert said.

Based on those questions, Albert enlisted a team of 10, including researchers from the Tulane departments of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and River-Coastal Science and Engineering as well as a collaborator from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Jackson State University.

“We pulled together a convergent team that could look at the project from different perspectives — material safety, ecological safety, geotechnical (land) and hydrological (water) impacts on the environment, and community engagement — asking how well do we expect recycled glass sand to help us mitigate land loss?”

Albert submitted a proposal to the NSF, and in fall 2021, the team was awarded more than $700,000 for a collaborative research project, which is now referred to as ReCoast. Albert serves as principal investigator, and ReCoast is one of 16 NSF-awarded Phase 1 efforts.

During this phase the team determined that recycled glass sand is safe on all fronts: It’s not damaging to the coast, plants can grow in it, and it’s not harmful to fish, oysters and crabs.

various sizes of glass sand
A coarse grind of sand is better for use along the coast, as it doesn’t wash away as easily as fine sand.

At the end of Phase 1, the team participated in an NSF Phase 2 proposal and pitch and was selected for a second round of funding for two additional years. Albert said the goals are to develop a plan that continues the existing research with expansion to beach environments, and to continue Glass Half Full’s production for the long-term. The additional funding has allowed for the research team to grow.

“Now, our team has over 20 senior investigators, plus all their students and postdocs and research technicians,” said Albert.

sandbags placed along a coast for restoration
Sandbags containing crushed glass aid in coastal restoration projects.

Community Engagement

The use of recycled glass for coastal restoration will remain the top priority “as long as it makes sense for everyone in the environment,” Trautmann said. As she and Steitz continue to collaborate with Tulane researchers on the ReCoast project and provide glass recycling services to thousands of New Orleans residents, they still manage to foster several impactful community relationships.

D. Jelagat Cheruiyot, professor of practice in Tulane’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who taught both Trautmann and Steitz, said she remembers their engaging class discussions and critical thinking about climate solutions.

“They would have discussions about what are we doing? How can we reduce the greenhouse effect? How can we change the trajectory we’re on in (regard to) climate change?” she said.

Cheruiyot serves as community engagement adviser to Glass Half Full. With Cheruiyot’s help, Glass Half Full has partnered with the Pointe Au Chien Indian Tribe, located in southeast Louisiana along the coastal parts of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes.

After Hurricane Ida in August 2021, Glass Half Full’s pulverizing machine wasn’t available because the storm left the city without electricity for some weeks, but Trautmann and Steitz didn’t stay idle. They coordinated trips for volunteers to assist the Pointe Au Chien Tribe with cleanup.

“The first weekend after Ida, we took 250 people,” Cheruiyot said. “Once Tulane reopened, the Center for Public Service continued the work with Glass Half Full until December.”

In April 2022, ReCoast’s first project involved stabilization of an eroding slope adjacent to the Pointe Au Chien Indian Tribe’s Community Center. Researchers worked alongside members of the tribe and volunteers recruited by Glass Half Full to add glass sand to the eroding slope and created a French drain/rain garden–style area at the base of the slope to prevent accumulation of stagnant water next to the center.

The team also partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana to repair a hurricane blowout zone with 10 tons of sand in Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge on the North Shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

“I think always viewing things in that glass-half-full mindset” — no matter how small the action is — “there’s always something to celebrate.”

Franziska Trautmann

Trautmann and Steitz sit on a sofa with burlap bags at the recycling facility
Trautmann and Steitz at the Louisa Street recycling facility.

During the 2022 winter holidays, Glass Half Full collected Christmas trees, using recycled trees for two coastal restoration projects with Common Ground Relief and the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

More recently, Trautmann and Steitz partnered with the Mardi Gras Indian Council to collect glass and aluminum on Super Sunday.

During Mardi Gras this year, Glass Half Full was also part of Recycle Dat, a collaboration between the City of New Orleans and several organizations to bring collection hubs to the St. Charles Avenue parade route for recycling glass, aluminum cans and beads.   

“It is great to, one, be saving the coast, but also to make sure that many big events are green,” Cheruiyot said.

The plethora of partnerships and efforts in which Glass Half Full is involved include Glassroots, an education outreach nonprofit to expand recycling access and empower fellow recyclers.

Because Glass Half Full is often approached about collaborations, Trautmann said that her knee-jerk reaction is usually to say “yes,” because “you never know what will come of it.”

“Especially in the coastal restoration space, there are people that we’ve looked up to since starting this, and now we have been able to partner with. These are organizations that know what they’re doing, and we can learn from.”

Leaders of Today

As Glass Half Full continues to grow, so does the attention and excitement. Glass Half Full has been featured on several national news shows including “NBC Nightly News With Lester Holt,” “PBS NewsHour” and “The Kelly Clarkson Show.” The team has also garnered thousands of followers on social media with many of their TikTok posts going viral.

“We didn’t expect so many people to care about recycling,” Trautmann said. “Having people bring us their glass and be excited about this and pay for us to pick up their glass, that’s been super incredible.”

Trautmann and Steitz are grateful for the support from the community and the many Tulane professors like Albert and Cheruiyot, who are just as grateful to help.

“Since I was a kid growing up in the Florida panhandle, I have struggled to figure out how I could do something truly meaningful to help protect the Gulf Coast environment,” Albert said. “So, partnering with Glass Half Full has been both incredibly inspiring and personally rewarding for me.”

Cheruiyot said that she feels like a “proud mom. They started this as students. We constantly say, ‘You’re leaders of the future,’ but they’re leaders today.”

Looking ahead, Trautmann said they plan to “scale up” everything they already have in the works. The team anticipates adding more coastal restoration projects while increasing their recycling capacity and expanding glass collections to the North Shore, Baton Rouge and Mississippi.

Climate change and coastal erosion can be overwhelming topics to think about, let alone address. So how do Trautmann and Steitz remain hopeful?

“I think always viewing things in that glass-half-full mindset,” Trautmann said. No matter how small the action is, “there’s always something to celebrate.

“Being able to get out and physically do work that’s contributing to a better planet, a better environment, can fill anyone with hope.”