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Turning Trash into Treasure: Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS)

Turning Trash into Treasure: Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS)

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Turning Trash into Treasure: Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS)

Although he gravitated to a new home, Baltimore, Maryland, eight times larger than his hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina, Dante Swinton brought a critical element of his southern roots with him that seems to define his motivation to succeed professionally.

Rock Hill’s civic motto, “Always On,” attests to Dante’s relentless drive to curtail unabated waste and the resulting unsustainable polluted environment it creates, which is far outpacing reclamation and recycling efforts. Despite this monumental challenge, you could say Dante is undaunted.

Mr. Swinton has been steadfast and consistent since college in his quest to mitigate the runaway pace of mostly recoverable garbage from ever-expanding landfills and toxin-producing incinerators and the resulting poisonous stew of pollutants in mostly urban, under-resourced communities they cause.

Mr. Swinton earned his B.A. degree in Environmental Studies and Political Science from Winthrop University in his native Rock Hill, South Carolina, in 2010. He went on to achieve his master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Baltimore in 2017, providing him with the essential training to aggressively pursue his passions.

Dante Swinton Founder Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems

Along the way, Dante Swinton, though no less inspired, replaced his inherited hometown motto of Always On with one more directly suitable to his cause, Reclaim. Reuse. Rise up., which identifies the core values of Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS) Baltimore, the corporation Dante founded, described as a zero-waste cooperative.

Swinton explains GRASS this way: “I’m working on a glass waste cooperative that will take bottles of glass from restaurants and residences and turn them into artwork. We will also provide glass-working classes and clean bottles for resale to local breweries, as well as offer room for local and traveling artists to sell or perform their works. We will be a sustainable maker and exhibit space.”

Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems Products

Mr. Swinton’s exhaustive pursuit of environmental justice for Baltimore has had him wear a variety of hats along his entrepreneurial journey, even a 2020 run for Baltimore City mayor. He has been affiliated with and/or performed in leadership roles on behalf of the Energy Justice Network, the Baltimore Clean Air Act, Clean Air Baltimore, Halt the Harm Network, and Divert Baltimore Program.

Dante’s dedication to his cause is formidable because he understands the scale and urgency of Baltimore’s and the nation’s explosive growth of largely recyclable refuse that is not being sufficiently reclaimed. The numbers are staggering regarding the total output of municipal waste and the corresponding carcinogens expelled into the environment.

Dante’s advocacy was instrumental to the passage of the 2019 Baltimore Clean Air Act, an initiative targeting flagrant industrial polluters. Unfortunately, a federal court ruled in March 2020 to overturn the new city law because it conflicts with State and Federal laws. Baltimore has some of the most toxic air in the country. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) revealed that in 2005, Baltimore City had the most lethal air nationwide.

In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked Baltimore as the 81st most foul-aired city in America among more than 9,000 metro regions and Maryland’s most polluted city. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Baltimore number 33 in the nation for worst asthma.

Trying to counteract these dangerous and worsening environmental conditions has been a hallmark of Dante Swinton’s career. Not only are the sheer physical parameters of Baltimore’s atmospheric toxicity a perpetual public health threat, but at the source, the companies that facilitate this egregious pollution are the real menace who go to great lengths to perpetuate airborne poisons for profit.

Two of Swinton’s biggest environmental adversaries include Baltimore City’s largest air polluter, the Wheelabrator Baltimore Trash Incinerator located in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Westport, where half the families live below the poverty line, and the nation’s largest medical waste incinerator, Curtis Bay Energy, 20 minutes south of Wheelabrator.

Dante has fearlessly pursued efforts to shut down both these facilities in the courts and through legislation, as well as frontline advocacy against other polluters and attempts to implement innovative public policy changes at the municipal and state levels to encourage more reclamation and recycling.

Even though Mr. Swinton received a great formal education in preparation for his career, the real-world experience he’s gained in the trenches in his pursuit of zero waste public sanitation was perhaps the critical proving ground for Dante’s preparation to launch Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems.

According to a 2021 report in the Recycling Facts Statistics blog, 28 billion glass bottles and jars are sent to landfills annually, estimated to be “the equivalent to the Empire State Building filling up every 3 weeks,” 37 million cubic feet.

The EPA estimates that Americans recycle approximately 33% of glass containers annually on average. No specific statistics were available for the glass category alone, however, the EPA reports that overall, Baltimore’s residential recycling rate is less than 15%. In one isolated case, however, from 2019, of 422,000 tons of garbage delivered to WIN Waste trash incinerator, formerly BRESCO, 4% was glass – less than 1700 tons.

Most of Dante Swinton’s reclaimed glass comes from local businesses. “Success for GRASS is having several restaurants divert their glass through us so we can reuse it as much as possible, explains Dante. What Mr. Swinton converts that recycled glass into is truly amazing.

Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems Recycled Glass

The wide array of unique, colorful, ornamental jewelry and household accessories produced by GRASS from recovered glass include texture table art, cheese boards, tea light holders, painted spoon rests, wine planters, pride table art, snack dishes, and coral bowls, with additional fine art-inspired collectibles in the pipeline.

Recycle your glass, buy priceless repurposed recycled artifacts from GRASS. Think sustainability and zero waste. Reclaim. Reuse. Rise up.

Your Turn

Dante Swinton’s story is a testament to the importance of staying true to your values while building a business. If you’re inspired to create change, take the next step by defining your mission and core principles. Share your own experiences of how your values can guide your entrepreneurial journey in the comments below.

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Turning Trash into Treasure: Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS)

Turning Trash into Treasure: Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS)

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