Students crafting colorful, fragile glass works of art at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Department of Art and Art History’s glass studio are also promoting sustainability by recycling rescued glass bound for the landfill on Oʻahu. They are upcycling the old glass into new art that can be sold, generating income for the studio to pay for in-house repairs and its visiting artist program.

Rick Mills, professor of art and chair of the glass area, incorporates upcycling into his classroom by teaching students to break down, melt and sculpt recycled glass.

student sorting through recycled glass
Sorting through recycled glass.

“Recycling is different from upcycling,” said Mills. “If you think about it, you’re making a product from something that was going to be bound for the landfill. You’re making it available for reuse and reconsideration.”

UH Mānoa’s glass studio melts 12,000 pounds of recycled glass every year, and 25 percent of the glass melted each semester comes from recycled materials.

“We have one furnace right now that has fresh glass, but we have another furnace, which we’re currently using, and that’s all recycle,” said Samson Lowe, a senior majoring in art studio. “Which is really awesome, so we don’t waste. We even go as far as collecting window jalousies and just window glass in general.”

The studio regularly collects recycled jalousies, sheet glass, window glass and picture-framing glass. Instead of shipping in glass from the mainland, which costs $1–$1.50 per pound, using locally recycled glass only costs the studio 2 cents per pound.

“We try to recycle as much as we can because it is a really big impact,” said Tayler Cobb, a senior majoring in molecular biology and bio-engineering. “Just all of the gas and all the electricity coming through. So we try to offset it by taking all of our materials and using everything, and making what we can.”

Visiting artist program

a glass heart sculpture
The artists worked with students to build a glass anatomical heart.

The visiting artist program, started in 1989, has hosted more than 62 artists from around the world.

Einar and Jamex de la Torre, two internationally recognized glass artists from Guadalajara, Mexico, spent a week with students in February, teaching them new glass-blowing techniques and ideas to incorporate into their own projects. The artists worked with students to build an anatomical heart, skull and other glass pieces.

“So we’ve made a self-sustaining program, where our visiting artists donate the work to the program,” said Mills. “It’s then sold at auction or sold through local galleries, and that money comes back to the department to help pay for the next visiting artist.”

For anyone interested in purchasing the glass art donated through the visiting artist program email Rick Mills at rlmills@hawaii.edu

—By Sarah Hendrix