Growing Rochester Company Enters New Glass Recycling Market

Millions of tons of laminated or architectural glass used in buildings and vehicles are dumped in landfills every year. The challenge is to separate the plastic sandwiched between the panes to get “clean” glass and plastic to sell as reuse.

Watson Recycling of Rochester has started talking to local manufacturer customers who use glass. Glass manufacturers have a failure rate of between 10 and 25%. A medium-sized manufacturer could send around 3,000 to 5,000 tonnes of laminated glass to landfill each year.

That’s a lot of laminated glass that just goes in the trash. And it can take around 1 million years for this glass to break down into its components.

CEO Jeremiah Watson and President of Business Development Patrick Elmore determined that architectural glass was a largely untapped recycling market with only a few international companies and none in the United States working with it.

Patrick Elmore, Jérémie Watson, Glen Watson and John Watson.

Patrick Elmore, Jérémie Watson, Glen Watson and John Watson.Media Core / For the Bulletin Post

Once the opportunity was identified, Watson’s R&D team rolled up their sleeves and began to design a device to process glass for recycling.

About two years later, they had a one-of-a-kind machine that successfully turned a window pane of all kinds of laminated glass and mirrors into piles of separate pieces that could be recycled.

This is a business-to-business company with Infinite that contracts with manufacturers to recover their waste, and then the processed material is sold as a commodity to companies that can use the raw material to make other glass and glass products. plastic.

“The good thing is that we can take what was waste and after dealing with it we have a marketable product. It makes financial sense. It works and it does something good, ”Watson said.

Watson and Elmore agree that a small Rochester company solving a problem none of the major US or even international recyclers has is a bit of a surprise.

“I don’t see any reason why anyone hasn’t done it yet, other than us,” Elmore said. “We’re not geniuses. It should have started 20 years ago. It’s still a bit surprising to me.

To Albert Lea and beyond

Watson launched Infinite Recycled Technologies in early 2020 to bring the prototype machine into service. The pandemic stalled the process for a few months, but soon the fledgling operation reached a 65,000 square foot facility in Albert Lea.

Now operating a 2.0 processing machine and a team of 20 on-site, Operation Watson / Infinite recycled around 17 million pounds of glass and plastic that would previously have gone to landfill.

The recycling business is regional due to the logistics required to collect the glass and then ship the processed materials to buyers as a commodity. Albert Lea’s operation processes glass from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. The growing number of customers in the region include Hayfield Windows, K&M Glass, and Hentges Glass.

The next phase will begin in November, when Infinite launches another architectural glass recycling operation in Ocala, Florida to process tons of “hurricane” glass. The first phase will be housed in a temporary facility, while Watson acquires land to build a permanent treatment complex.

“There’s a huge amount of glass waste in Florida,” Watson said, explaining why the next step is to expand there.

Recycled glass is powdered

Recycled glass is powderedPatrick Elmore / for the Post Bulletin

Watson, whose family has been involved in waste disposal and recycling since the 1800s, says he’s just as surprised as anyone that they’ve taken the lead in this area. However, successfully breaking the code of architectural glass processing opens the door to unlimited potential for growth and expansion into new regional markets.

Elmore estimates that 12 million tonnes of glass are disposed of each year in the United States, much of which is architectural glass. This represents the weight of 19 ships the size of the Titanic combined, he said.

“The need is astronomical. Sky is the limit. We could be 100 (companies recycling architectural glass) more than in the United States alone, and we still wouldn’t scratch the surface, ”Watson said.

Deep roots and gradual growth

However, the Rochester family business intends to be strategic in its growth.

The glass is brought in for treatment at the Albert Lea plant of Infinite Recycling.

The glass is brought in for treatment at the Albert Lea plant of Infinite Recycling.Patrick Elmore / For the Bulletin Post

In 2011, the family more than tripled the size of Watson Recycling by building a $ 3.5 million, 12-acre facility at 81st Street, just beyond the northern border of Rochester. The company had maximized its old Rochester facility on North Broadway. They added whole car recycling and started accepting ferrous metals at the new site.

“We’ve grown steadily every year from the first year we started here until now,” he said sitting in his office at the Rochester plant. “We’re more than double the volume today compared to when we started here. “

The Infinite Recycling business is just the latest for the Watson family, which has deep roots in Southeast Minnesota.

When Rochester documented his first landfill in the city in the 1890s, William Watson, Jeremiah’s great-great-grandfather, was named “scavenger chief.” His job was to excavate the landfill and remove anything that could be reused or sold as raw material.

Watson’s grandfather and father, Rodney Watson and Glen Watson, also worked in the waste and recycling business. Glen Watson is now president of the recycling operation which was started in 2006 with many of his 16 children working for the company.

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