Fact: glass makes up more than 5% of landfills.
Fact: two-thirds of wine bottles aren’t recycle
Fact: recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for six hours.
With these facts in mind, Ray DelMuro’s mission is to recycle 10 million bottles, fashion them into a saleable product, and improve the planet in the process.
Ray DelMuro is a one-time aeronautical engineer who has found the perfect medium to meld his left brain/right brain gifts. Refresh Glass, the company he founded in 2008, repurposes wine bottles into drinking glasses, carafes, vases, and candleholders saving 200,000 bottles from the landfill each year. Thus far, Refresh Glass has recycled more than 450,000 wine bottles on its way to its 10 million bottle rescue mission. “I wanted to find a solution to this problem and improve our planet while making something useful out of the bottles,” says DelMuro.
The Phoenix-based 36-year-old’s business has been a steady word-of-mouth grow. For five years, he’s sold his wares to local merchants as well as on his own e-commerce site. Now, DelMuro’s ready to launch on a larger scale as he works his way to that 10 million bottle goal in five years’ time. Every month DelMuro rescues 20,000 wine bottles from area restaurants, bars, and hotels. The bottles are cleaned, stocked by color, manufactured with custom built machinery of his own design, polished, and sold. “We’ve had tremendous support from the community,” DelMuro avers. “Every week we have people wanting to get involved on some level, provide us with empty wine bottles, or support our mission by featuring our products.”
DelMuro has a strong tech background with a B.S. and M.S. in industrial technology and engineering. “Ever since I was a little kid I loved Legos and art and I welded my own furniture in college, so I always knew this would be part of my life in some way, shape, or form.” DelMuro spent five years as a manufacturing engineer for a billion dollar Southern California aerospace operation constructing airplane parts. “I was an engineer because I loved creating efficiency,” he says. “I had access to millions of dollars of tools and super cool processes.”
But a sense of roads not taken impelled his next move. “I had a fancy title and, on paper, it felt like I had everything. But I didn’t. You can’t derive happiness from a resume. I wasn’t passionate about airplane parts, so I resigned.” DelMuro used his savings to travel the globe for a year, during which time he had a climactic epiphany. “I wanted a job where people could tell I loved it just by the inflection in my voice,” he says. “Life is short, and following your passion is one of the hardest things to do. It was time for me to do that.”
DelMuro sought something that incorporated his engineering background into a creative pursuit that also supported a larger cause. That’s when he ordered a bottle cutting kit and began experimenting with refashioning bottles. “It was a challenge,” he acknowledges. “My first bottle took hours.” Initially, it was an entertaining diversion; fancy vodka bottles were used to make drinkware. “I filled my cupboard with glasses,” he says. “They were unique and my friends had an emotional response to them.”
That same year, DelMuro turned his amusement into a business launching Refresh Glass from his garage, maxing out credit cards as seed money. He tended bar to make ends meet and enrolled in entrepreneurial courses to boost potential. DelMuro fabricated all his own equipment, an obvious source of immense pride. “Our rims have a perfectly beautifully smooth finish,” he beams. “I taught myself everything, trial, and error.”
Using bottles proffered by a friend’s bartending company, DelMuro started with four-packs of 16oz glasses. In time, he curried relationships with restaurants and hotels to regularly receive their empty bottles. “That’s still how we do it, five years later,” he says. “It gives glass that would be wasted a whole new beginning. I transformed a problem into an effective business model.” Over the last half-decade, Refresh Glass – a most fitting moniker – has been on the receiving end of flattering local and national press. “There’s a feel-good aspect to this,” DelMuro agrees, “and a lot of people take pride in playing their part.”
Last year, the burgeoning entrepreneur decided he was wearing too many hats, so he took on a minority share investor sympathetic to purpose-driven businesses, a conscious capitalist. “I don’t handle production anymore,” he divulges. “I concentrate on product development, as well as upgrade and fix the machinery. I’m more of a boss now than a production person. It’s about helping the business grow. People love our products; we just need to let the world know we exist.” It’s his greatest challenge, he admits. “In the beginning, we didn’t have much of a marketing budget, and we were telling our story one person at a time. Now, we’ve jumped to the next level with great media support.” To capitalize on the positive press, Refresh Glass has taken on a sales team, doubled production capacity, and introduced new collections. “Last year was a big growth spurt for us,” he says. “We moved to a larger space [their fifth upgrade, now operating from a 6,000-square-foot facility] where we produce 1,000 pieces a day, and we’re building inventory.”
The dishwasher-safe, highly durable assortments include five colors – green, gold, clear, antique, and amber (the most popular color perhaps because it’s the least expensive since there are so many amber bottles recycled). There are 75 SKUs – drinkware, carafes, vases, planters, soy candles – which retail from $15 to $40.
The newest collection, the Refresh Memories Kit, has DelMuro stoked. Here’s how it works: customer requests an empty crate from Refresh Glass which they fill with the empty wine bottles from an important celebration, like a wedding or birthday. The bottles are then sent to Refresh Glass where they are transformed into etched momentos with names, dates, or other personal messages. “This is a real game changer for us,” DelMuro proclaims. “We transform bottles used at an emotional event to a tangible product. This kit allows people to relive their most cherished memories.” The kits retail from $200 to $350 depending on if you use their collected bottles or your own. The kit includes the cost of the etching which is done in house. “It’s such a unique way to relive the event,” DelMuro continues. “It’s a great gift with real everyday function. The biggest thing on my to-do list is getting th word out on these kits.”
DelMuro is bullish on business, his sights set on being a $20 million player by decade’s end. “Only people crazy enough to dream it get there,” he maintains. “And our product will get us there.” A promising partnership with Whole Foods – it starts locally where Refresh Glass enjoys a huge presence, with the intent of going national – as well as an innovative social media project where DelMuro posts on different product uses for a wine bottle’s parts (like trivets made out of corks) are outside-the-box projects that fuel DelMuro’s passion, a passion clearly palpable in his voice, which he so desperately desired.
”Everyone wants their efforts to be a story and part of something better,” he says. “People love wine and have an attachment to it. You enjoy it with people you care about. Every one of those wine bottles was filled and sold somewhere. Then we step in, take the empty bottle, remake it, and sell it so it has a whole new life. How many products do you know with a story like that, that’s so unique? It’s like a Forrest Gump box of chocolates; every glass has a different story. And, in the process, we’re bettering the planet a bottle at a time.”