Factory Floor: A Glass Act
Ray DelMuro was looking for a new business venture that would ignite his passions as an engineer and creative, while also paying homage to the planet. It was 2008 and he’d just returned home to Los Angeles after a year-long trip abroad; an adventurous excursion that had him backpacking through Europe, surfing in Australia, whitewater rafting in Bali, bungee jumping in Switzerland and island hopping in Southeast Asia, with many stops to museums, festivals, beaches and downtown areas in between. Altogether, he visited 21 countries and 39 cities across the globe. Seeing the beauty of the world’s communities, both large and small, DelMuro returned home with a longing to create something that would be useful, appealing and easy on the earth.
Prior to his departure, DelMuro had been working as an engineer in the aerospace industry in Huntington Beach, California, and earlier in the automobile industry; an opportunity that excited him when he started at C&D Zodiac Aerospace in 2001. After being with the company for four years, DelMuro was promoted to director of manufacturing technology, a role that brought him more into the corporate side and away from working on the machines themselves, which he truly loved. A skilled creative and craftsman, DelMuro had been building apparatuses since he was a child. What began with Legos progressed into purchasing and working on a hot rod—which, DelMuro says, he still does when he has the chance—and making his own furniture. So, he took the trip to try and reignite his passion for design, and combine the worlds of engineering, art and community. Not long after his return, Refresh Glass was born.
Refresh Glass is a Tempe, Arizona-based supplier of glassware, home décor and gifting pieces that are made from recycled wine bottles. The company transforms rescued wine bottles into one-of-a-kind wares and conversation-starters that can be customized for clients’ needs, such as glasses, vases, self-watering planters and candles that can be used daily. And in typical DelMuro fashion, not only did he start the company by handcrafting the products himself in his garage, using machinery and tools that he built for this purpose, but he also ventured throughout the community to collect discarded wine bottles in the back of his Toyota 4Runner as well. Fourteen years later, and Refresh Glass products remain 100-percent recycled and 100-percent USA-made. “I realized a while back that I went through a few different phases,” he says. “When I was an engineer, I wanted logic and to make money. When I traveled on my big trip, I wanted to emotionally feel and experience the world. When I started Refresh Glass, I wanted to provide environmental impact for our community.”
DelMuro’s decision to make the jump from aerospace engineering to rescued glassware began with an eye-opening revelation. “I resigned from my engineering position because I calculated that I would work 100,000 hours in my [lifetime] at least, and I asked myself what I wanted to spend those 100,000 hours on,” he says. After returning from his trip, DelMuro became determined to develop a product that would combine practicality with design and cause, and purchased a wine bottle-cutting kit to pursue his vision. “I was hellbent on figuring out how to blend function, style and purpose together, concurrently,” he says. “I bought the bottle-cutting kit in hopes that it would become a path to helping me achieve that passion professionally and provide that kind of multifaceted value to the world.”
DelMuro spent hours crafting his first two glasses, but he soon shared his glass creations with close friends, and when they were well received, he decided to sell his recycled, handmade items at farmers’ markets. At these markets, DelMuro formed connections with people who worked for retail, hotels and restaurants, which brought him in touch with businesses that discarded a lot of wine bottles. Today, Refresh Glass has collection partners throughout the Tempe area that allow the company to transform about 20,000 wine bottles every month: a significant feat as, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 70 percent of wine bottles wind up in landfills. And because of the number of bottles that Refresh Glass collects, the company also has an array of styles, colors and shapes to offer.
DelMuro took Refresh Glass’s recycling initiative a step further with its 10 Million Bottle Rescue initiative. Already salvaging thousands of wine bottles each week, the company operates with a goal to rescue 10 million glass bottles from landfills every year. “As the company and rescue volumes have grown, keeping track seemed important to show the impact, and we decided that one million bottles wasn’t enough, so we decided to create the 10 Million Bottle Rescue Mission,” says DelMuro. Thus far, Refresh Glass has recycled about two million bottles. “Refresh Glass was selected as the Recycling Small Business of the Year for our state because of the tons of glass we divert each week that many venues would have struggled to recycle otherwise,” he says. The company’s glasses were also the chosen gift distributed at the first U.S. EPA Recycling Innovation Fair at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2019, during a Keep America Beautiful happy hour.
Refresh Glass practices a concept known as conscious capitalism; a term that was first described in a book of the same name by John Mackey, founder of Whole Foods Market, and Raj Sisodia, and has since been used to describe consumer companies that are using capitalism as a way to help the community. “Now it’s a community of people who work to infuse purpose and business together; basically capitalism as a force for good,” DelMuro says. Outside of its glass-recycling efforts, Refresh Glass also works with other organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Waste Management and Sustainable Materials. “We love working with schools, charities and other organizations to make our community a better place,” he says. The company donates all of its products that have slight imperfections to Habitat for Humanity where they are donated to the families they are building homes for, or to sell in its ReStores, which sell gently-used and donated items. To date, the company has also hosted more than 10 Refreshing Hours at venues that help collect bottles, a happy hour event with 75 to 100 attendees where all the proceeds go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Refresh Glass is also a recycling collection partner with Waste Management on its Waste Management Phoenix Open, which has been recognized as the largest zero-waste sporting event in the world.
“I like to think of Refresh Glass as having the heart of a charity and the horsepower of a corporation,” DelMuro says. “Our Refresh Glasses are brought out all the time within the first five minutes of visiting a home or office because the first question people ask their guests is often, ‘Can I get you something to drink?’ Why wouldn’t a host serve those drinks in a glass that is a mission-driven and unique conversation-starter? In the promo world, this is such an asset because it helps the gifter’s story get told more often because the glasses are such a conversation piece.”
Collect empty wine bottles from community partners.
Rinse out and clean the used, rescued wine bottles.
Melt the rims and stress-relieve the glass.
Engrave the glasses, then package to ship.
Watch the Refresh Glass process in action at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=P_MJTwjUvnk
About Refresh Glass
Founding date: November 2008
Principal: Ray DelMuro, founder and owner
Number of orders filled per month: 500
Most popular items: a two-pack of mixed-color glasses, a four-pack of mixed-color 12-ounce glasses, a bundle of four-pack 12-ounce and 16-ounce glasses and a self-watering planter
Danielle Renda is associate editor of PPB.