‘Something our community did:’ Flagler Beach recognized for innovative recycling program

Machine turns glass into sand

FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. – The sanitation crew in Flagler Beach is helping Get Results in the county and beyond with its recycling program. The team recently won an award for its innovative “Big Blue” machine that turns glass into sand.

“To me, it’s more about the residents and our city to work together and do anything,” said Rob Smith, supervisor of sanitation for the city.

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Smith and his 15-person team reinvented the way Flagler Beach recycles.

“We looked at recycling and it was turning into a third trash day. Our contamination rate was through the roof, like it is everywhere else,” he said.

Smith said it was last spring when he stopped the residents from traditional recycling and made them learn a new system.

“I went from being one of the most well-liked people in town to one of the most hated people in town because I was the guy who shut recycling down,” he said.

He then asked the city to buy a $200,000 machine, rarely used by cities in the U.S., to turn glass into sand.

“We go through an average, during peak season, 10 to 12 tons of glass a week. I pay to dump that by the ton. So, figured out a way to do two things: recycle and save money,” he said.

Big Blue recycling machine in Flagler Beach turns glass into sand (Copyright 2023 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

The team pours the collections into a machine nicknamed “Big Blue” and on the other side comes glass mulch and sand. The machine is able to pick out any aluminum, metal, tin, and corks. Smith said the machine crushes 7 to 8 tons worth of glass a week that can be used for decoration, a replacement for peat gravel, and draining systems.

It especially came in handy during the recent hurricanes for sandbags. Smith said about 24 beer bottles make 10 pounds worth of sand and each sandbag is about 25 pounds.

“The sand is also FDOT approved and Army Corps of Engineer approved. We were able to use a lot of the sand, mix it with other sand, use it for sandbags and it could just be put in a ditch or pothole when done with the bags,” he said.

Smith said the collections mostly come from Flagler Beach and Palm Coast residents but people from Fort Pierce, Daytona, St. Augustine and Jacksonville have dropped off donations.

“One hundred percent of the glass that I can get my hands on gets reused some way either inside our city or the county,” he said.

Word of the team’s work has spread. Just last week, Smith and his team won the Northeast Regional Council’s Stewardship Award.

“It definitely is awesome. It’s awesome for all of us. It’s something our community did on our own,” he said.

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About the Author:

Molly joined News 6 at the start of 2021, returning home to Central Florida.