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Meet Shelby Kaye, co-founder of Broken Arrow Glass Recycling

In World
June 04, 2024

Jun. 3—Shelby Kaye remembers vividly how she and her partner wound up in Santa Fe in 2018.

The couple — who met while attending Pilchuck Glass School in Washington — spent two years traveling across the country in a school bus outfitted as a home, affectionately known as a “schoolie,” making the trip to Santa Fe on occasion. They also had a child on the way and had to decide on a place to settle down.

“We were having our first child and so we knew we wanted to settle down somewhere,” said Kaye, 31. “Our school bus always broke down in Santa Fe. … We decided we’d settle down here and because we couldn’t land in a place for longer than a couple months, I told my partner we’d have to live somewhere for five years, so we said we’d live in Santa Fe for five years.”

Kaye and her partner, Chris Bogle, have been living in New Mexico going on six years now — beating out the original plan — and have started their own company, Broken Arrow Glass Recycling, which focuses on upcycling recycled glass and transforming it into handmade home goods, sculptures and crushed material for landscaping.

The company, founded in 2020, began out of creativity as the couple began upcycling their own waste when the city closed glass-recycling locations during the pandemic. Experienced in glass art, the couple began both a residential and glass-recycling program aimed at using that recycled material in the art they create.

Now the company is on the verge of even more growth — getting state assistance through the Job Training Incentive Program to train new hires and a no-interest loan from Regional Development Corp. to purchase needed equipment — in its very early stages.

“We have no new bottle manufacturing facility here; we have no new fiberglass manufacturing facility here,” Kaye said. “So it’s like, ‘Great, we process the recycling but then what are we doing with it?’ We know right now our studio has an outlet for the recycling that we’re processing at the quantities that we’re processing.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Question: You’d been traveling in a school bus for two years before choosing to live in Santa Fe. What was that like?

Answer: I graduated from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in studio art in 2015. So from 2015 to 2018 … we started in a two-seat pickup truck and then we were like, “Oh, let’s get a school bus. We’ll live out of our vehicle.” But we lived in Sedona [Ariz.] for a little while and worked at a studio there. We went to Nebraska and worked for an artist there — we just traveled around and worked for different glass artists. So we would take a job and then move on and then go take another job, and it was a great way to see the country, travel, work for different artists and learn how different studios work. And then when we were building a family, we decided, “OK, let’s settle down and let’s build our own studio,” and so that’s how we ended up in Santa Fe.

Question: What states did you guys travel through in those couple of years?

Answer: Arizona, New Mexico, Nebraska. We went up to Oregon and Washington. We thought about settling down in northern Washington where Pilchuck Glass School is — [that’s] where I met my partner. We thought we’d be in the glass arts scene there, it’s very big in Washington because of Chihuly [a famous glass artist]. But that wasn’t where we needed to be, so we were brought out here.

Question: What is it that Broken Arrow Glass Recycling does?

Answer: We are a creative glass-recycling studio. Currently, we’re the only company processing glass recycling in Northern New Mexico. We offer curbside glass collection within the Santa Fe and Taos areas, where we have a curbside collection service. You can get your glass recycling picked up once a month or once every other month. And then we divert that material into our closed-loop program, where we upcycle the bottles into glass art. We also melt the bottles down and blow glass with the glass recycling. And anything we don’t upcycle or melt down to be reblown, we crush the material. That crushed material is then used in a process called terrazzo, which is crushed glass and concrete mixed together and then polished out. We also use it for landscaping materials. And then we’re using it for flood diversion and erosion control material — eco-construction material.

Question: Your company is set to receive JTIP funds and has already received a no-interest loan from Regional Development Corp. Where is Broken Arrow Glass Recycling currently at in terms of growth?

Answer: We were able to utilize the RDC TEAM Fund. The way that fund works is for equipment, and so we were approved for three different pieces of equipment. One of those was a glass-blowing furnace. We have already purchased and are currently using our new glass-blowing furnace. We’re able to melt down about 300 pounds of glass recycling a week in our furnace — that’s really great. … Before we were sort of limited by our equipment, and now with the growth in our equipment, we’re working on designing a whole new housewares line that includes pendant lights, lamps, larger-scale works and public art.

We have already secured three out of the six JTIP positions, and so what we’re doing right now is processing 20 tons of glass recycling a month, and the growth that we’re looking at is to be able to, by the end of the year, process 60 tons a month. By next year, we’re looking at being able to process 150 tons a month, and the growth that we’re sort of growing to is we know that the city of Santa Fe produces 160 tons of glass recycling a month, the city of Albuquerque produces 260 tons a month, and we would like to be able to grow to where we can be processing between 500 tons and 1,000 tons of glass recycling a month.

Question: It sounds like maybe you want to bring your recycling program to Albuquerque to start processing that material.

Answer: A lot of people know about us, and Albuquerque residential members would love for us to open up our curbside collection program. What I tell people is just be patient, we’re working on it. … This JTIP approval is a step in that direction so that then we can have the manpower to go down to Albuquerque and get the glass recycling and process it.

Question: You were named to Waste360’s 40 Under 40 national list recently. What does that mean to you to be recognized for the work you’re doing here in New Mexico?

Answer: It’s really incredible. I’ve had an interesting journey personally going from identifying myself as an artist to sculptor, performer, performance artist — you know, I made a lot of sculptures and then activated them. And then in 2020, I started this business and just still saw myself as an artist, and then just was confining myself to working with recycled glass as my art medium. And then in 2022, Broken Arrow won the Small Business of the Year award through the Chamber of Commerce in Santa Fe, and that was the first moment — I had also just taken the Creative Startups accelerator program in town — I realized, “Oh, I am not solely an artist, I’m also an entrepreneur.”

Now I’m learning about what it means to be an entrepreneur. What are the responsibilities? What’s the vision? What’s the mission? How do I be a team leader and support a company? I’ve been processing that and then after receiving the 40 Under 40 award on a national level within the waste industry, it actually opened up a moment of clarity of saying, “Oh,” to myself, “Wow, now I have to [understand what it means] that we are a company within the waste industry.”

Our systems and our structures don’t run without waste removal. I can understand what the impact on a local level looks like to be able to divert glass recycling from our landfills. But then it really is helping me see this vision in a much larger scope of, well, what does it mean to be a company within the waste industry that supports reducing consumption and then reusing consumption and then recycling? You know the three Rs you learn in elementary school? Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Question: What keeps you motivated?

Answer: Social impact. Environmental impact. What keeps me motivated is this next generation — these children [her kids] that I’m watching run on a trampoline right now. … What keeps me motivated is knowing that the small impacts that we can make by diverting this infinitely recyclable material from our landfill, which reduces space — the impact that’s making is just vast, even though it seems so small. Really, the motivation behind this is knowing that not only can we create a more sustainable model for our community, in terms of environmental models, but these are also, you know, regenerative economic models. We are taking something that would otherwise go in most people’s trash and then giving it added value and then producing economic base job growth, and employing more people in our community.

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