The clinking and clattering of glass containers jostling against each other rings out on the second and fourth Saturday morning each month in the Carrollton neighborhood.  As many as 150 cars park momentarily outside of Faith New Orleans Church while drivers and passengers drop off glass to volunteers who sort it by color. The volunteers are brought together by the Central Carrollton Association (CCA), a neighborhood group which has partnered with Faith New Orleans for the last four years to lead one of the largest volunteer recycling efforts in the city. 

I was witness to this community effort on a recent Saturday when I dropped off my own glass bottles. The endeavor has resulted in an estimated 8,000-10,000 pounds of glass collected each month.  The glass is sorted and placed in one of 18 large, blue rolling bins, where it is eventually picked up by Glass Half Full, the recycling organization.  Glass Half Full pulverizes the glass down to different sizes of sand and gravel, which is used in disaster relief sandbags, coastal restoration, and in materials for flooring and landscaping. 

The impressive environmental achievements of this one neighborhood association extend beyond glass recycling. They include tree planting, compost collection, promotion of neighborhood walkability, installation of rain gardens, and offering a hub to pick up orders of locally-sourced food through Laughing Buddha Market.  

In a city where citizens adapt to modest expectations of city services, could the grassroots neighborhood-level model be a blueprint to achieve significant environmental progress?  And, what role should the city play in helping neighborhoods to organize, even when it can be argued that these volunteer efforts emerge due to lack of city services in the first place? 

Origin and Growth

CCA members started the glass recycling effort in 2019. Volunteers collected glass from a small number of people and then drove that glass in their personal vehicles to the city’s weekly drop-off site at 2829 Elysian Fields.  When Glass Half Full opened its 3935 Louisa Street drop-off location soon thereafter, that became their new destination. What started with two or three car trips ballooned to as many as nine trips to the facility.  After some negotiations Glass Half Full now provides CCA 18 of its roller bins for a fee and picks them up after each recycling event. CCA collects donations to cover the charge. 

Max Steitz, co-founder of Glass Half Full, has seen the growth of CCA’s glass recycling effort. “Central Carrollton Association is a pilot – the first neighborhood association to really take on glass recycling,” said Steitz.  “It has worked out really, really well from all sides.  A lot of times associations can start a program, but maybe the mechanisms to continue it are not in place, such as the long-term funding. We’ve been able to figure that out with Carrollton, and we’re super grateful for all their support.”

CCA promotes participation via the Next Door app, whose audience extends well beyond Carrollton.  Thus the participants who bring glass to the Faith New Orleans drop-off hail from several different neighborhoods, including many parts of Jefferson Parish.

Phyllis Jordan, a longtime board member with CCA and Chair of the glass recycling effort, sees this growth as a success that can be replicated. “We are at our limit, and we just can’t grow anymore,” said Jordan.  “I’m now talking to another neighborhood association in this general area that is interested in doing what we’re doing. We haven’t got all the pieces together yet, but I’m hoping they will take the first and third Saturdays with glass recycling.”  Jordan is currently mapping out policies and procedures that other neighborhood organizations could review to learn lessons from Carrollton’s experience.

The president of one nearby neighborhood association, Carling Dinkler of Fontainebleau Improvement Association, has been impressed with what CCA has achieved. “It’s cool.  I was impressed with the fact that a group of citizens have taken it upon themselves to help make the community more sustainable. Now every time I throw glass in the trash, I feel guilty because I know it could go to a place (Glass Half Full) that is making our community stronger.” 

Fontainebleau Improvement Association’s board is contemplating whether it could start its own recycling program.  Considerations include determining a drop-off site and whether it could actively staff such an effort. Dinkler feels that the demand is there.  “Neighborhood organizations offer a great opportunity to let people meet priorities and have their voices heard.  I think New Orleans has one of the strongest senses of community.  We band together to take on hard challenges.  Climate change is one of those challenges.”

Glass Half Full is optimistic about working in a similar capacity with other neighborhoods.  “We love what Central Carrollton has been able to get done, and we’re absolutely interested in working with other neighborhood organizations,” said Max Steitz.

Community Effort

One key to the success in Carrollton lies in social capital.  “Part of what I love about the recycling effort is that it has become a community gathering space,” said Phyllis Jordan.  “I do think that building a neighborhood social economy is an important part of this. And the level of organization it takes to make it happen is relatively low.  This is a do-able effort.”

At a time when the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General is issuing a dire warning about the deleterious and widespread effects of loneliness on American life and individual health, the civic engagement in Carrollton strikes back at that trend. 

Pastor Byron Cutrer of Faith New Orleans, whose driveway serves as the bi-monthly drop-off site, agrees.  “I think connection, now more than ever, can be addressed by volunteer efforts like this.  They can help us address those issues like loneliness and isolation. We want to be a part of that connection. The response from the community has been tremendous.  Obviously, there is a desire to recycle glass. The proof is in evidence of how many people show up.”

Volunteers are the worker bees that make this effort possible.  Approximately six volunteers show up on a regular basis. As I witnessed on a recent Saturday, glass recycling can get messy.  Glass can break. Cuts can happen.  Heavy lifting is part of the job description.  Sweat is part of the uniform.  Yet the volunteers keep showing up.  “They are all dependable,” said Paul Baricos, current secretary, and past president of the CCA board.

Curt Kunzel volunteers as a representative of Faith New Orleans. “I love volunteering.  It helps the community. You see how much people enjoy having the opportunity to recycle glass.”

David Schwartz has been volunteering for over a year. Having moved from California, he was astonished that there was no curbside collection of glass in New Orleans. “It’s kind of shameful,” said Schwartz. “This stuff is recyclable and reusable. Doing this encourages people to not throw glass in the trash.  As a practical matter, what I learned is that they are actually using the glass to restore the shoreline. I thought they hauled it away somewhere, melted it down, and made new containers out of it. So that was kind of an eye-opener for me.”  

Doug Mabile, a retiree who has been volunteering since the beginning of the effort in 2019, enjoys the community aspect. “It’s fun. You get to meet people. I volunteer because it’s important to me. I would like to see something like this turn into people volunteering to pick up trash off the street.”   

For those participants dropping off their glass, the appreciation for having an alternative to a landfill is palpable. Smiles, handshakes, thank-yous, and introductions abound.  Elaine Warriner and her husband David drove from Metairie for their first visit to the recycling effort in May. Having learned about the effort through the Next Door app, Warriner was impressed by the overall scene.  “It’s amazing. There’s a lot of help here.  We appreciate the help in donating. We plan on making a donation to help with the fees.”  The end game for the glass was not lost on Warriner.  “I’ve seen what Glass Half Full can do with grinding up the glass and helping to restore the coastline.”  

Rachel Olivares has been delivering her glass to the Faith New Orleans drop-off for over a year. “I think it’s important to have a place to recycle glass,” said Olivares. “This is not available citywide, so they are providing a service that is necessary. I get to see that I’m not the only one who cares.”  

Hub for sustainable Efforts

In addition to organizing volunteers for recycling, CCA members have engaged in many other sustainability efforts.  They have planted trees, fixed sidewalks and promoted walkability, addressed blight, promoted the Nix Public Library, and regularly helped maintain two city-owned cemeteries in the neighborhood.  And with grants from the city’s Cleanup Nola program they constructed a demonstration rain garden at Faith Church and installed four dog waste stations around the cemeteries. 

CCA also partners with Laughing Buddha Nursery, a farmer-owned local grocery which links the New Orleans area to local food and gardening supplies. Laughing Buddha owners Grant and Kate Estrade co-manage a farm in Washington Parish. Via 8 pickup locations in and around New Orleans, the Estrades deliver pre-ordered food sourced from theirs and other regional farms.  CCA approached Kate with the idea of using Faith New Orleans as one of its hubs, and they readily agreed.  

“The people who like local food are also very tied into recycling and other environmental efforts,” said Kate Estrade.  “We see that connection of people who care about recycling, care about their food, and care about the environmental impact of their food.  There’s a very natural overlap.”

City’s role?

City officials have taken notice of CCA’s efforts. “It is clear that Central Carrollton has been focused on resilience and sustainability.  Kudos to them,” said District A Councilmember Joe Giarrusso.  “There are a lot of great ideas that are out there, but it’s hard to continuously execute.  Central Carrollton has succeeded at that.”

So what role should the city play in assisting neighborhood volunteer groups in environmental undertakings?

“The city always has a unique 30,000-ft. view of what is happening in different neighborhoods and knowing how to accelerate things that are going well,” said Pastor Byron Cutrer.  “For instance, the city has micro-grants that put wind in the sails of neighborhoods that are doing things well.  We know that the city has to take care of the most basic services first.  We also know that we can walk and chew gum, though. We want the city to support an effort like this, particularly in a communications role.”

Councilman Giarrusso agrees. “The city can help amplify the voice of what neighborhood groups are doing in this regard,” said Giarrusso.  “You have to constantly communicate about an idea for it to succeed.  In this day and age, you have to think about the best way to communicate.  Is it email, is it flyers, social media? The more you can communicate across platforms the better, and eventually that consistency in communication creates habits for people.” 

He also acknowledged that the neighborhoods whose residents have more time and resources are often more likely to organize effectively and navigate the city’s bureaucracy. With that in mind he raised the possibility that the city could help connect certain neighborhoods with volunteer organizations.

One city funding source that should soon become available stems from the Wisner Donation. Benaiah Harvey, Deputy Director with the Neighborhood Engagement Office, said that an allotment of $500,000 is being set aside for “green infrastructure and beautification projects that benefit the community.”  Neighborhood associations and individual citizens can apply for that funding, with caps per project of approximately $5,000.

According to Harvey, an announcement about this funding is expected in late summer. For now, the plan is that there will be a four-week period later this year in which applications will be accepted.  

Given the enthusiasm that residents have been showing for glass recycling every other Saturday in Carrollton, it seems like this operation has energy to sustain itself for a while.  If more neighborhood associations follow suit, a coordinated city support system to boost these efforts could help us all to reap the benefits of a greener city.

Kevin Fitzwilliam has a broad professional background in sustainability including private-sector consulting, environmental education, media, entrepreneurship, and advocacy. He can be reached at