We decided to visit Bolivia’s largest glass factory that uses only recycled glass to produce some of their wonderfully organically shaped round glasses like the ones shown in the below photos.
We were in for a very warm welcome and tour thanks to Marcelo who, along with his father and brother, run the factory in Cochabamba. Actually, it was his father who founded the Fair Trade business in 1993. After having a small workshop transforming plastic, someone suggested he could easily do glass instead and at the time the Dutch government was offering funding… and so it was born! Now they have around 100 employees who do shift work during night and day. The factory operates 24 hours because of the amount of natural gas needed to get the ovens to 1300degC.
Marcelo explained to us that they have 5 maestros who blow the glass, so every single item is blown by a person and within a 10 hour shift the maestros can make up to nearly 4000 pieces depending on their sizes. This blew my mind, to think of someone blowing that much glass for 10 hours!
Our tour of the factory started where workers sort the glass. Anyone can collect glass and take it to the factory to sell by the kilogram. Much of it seems to be coca cola bottles, clear alcohol spirits bottles and broken windows. Crisil do not accept coloured glass in order to keep their products pure, consistent and free of toxins like lead, cadmium and zinc. Actually, I was really impressed to find out they do annual testing for these heavy metals to ensure they can continue to produce healthy recycled glassware that can also be exported. At the moment they export around 15% of what they produce to Holland, the US, the UK and even Australia… and the rest is sold in the national market.
Once they have segregated the glass it is melted at 1300degC and then blown into moulds or free form by the maestros to make drinking glasses, decorations, jugs, bottles, jars and more. At this stage they can add colours to create unique designs. They then pass each item through an oven with a rolling conveyor belt that starts at 600degC and gradually decreases to room temperature over a 2 hour period to ensure the glass doesn’t shatter.
After cooling, the items are packed immediately in recycled newspaper and stored in the warehouse according to their design.
It’s really interesting and such a pleasure to see how this semi-artisanal factory operates to create a high quality product from recycled materials.