Danielle Ruttenberg is a trained glassblower, entrepreneur and mother of two young children. After graduating from the Tyler School of Art, she followed her passion and founded DR Glass Design, a custom glass art and fabrication business, which she ran from 2007 to 2015. Shortly after the birth of her first child, Ruttenberg co-founded Remark Glass, a fully sustainable, zero-waste custom glass studio located in the revitalized Bok Building in South Philadelphia. She also co-founded Bottle Underground, a nonprofit organization dedicated to removing glass from the local waste cycle.
Blending artistry with environmental responsibility, Remark Glass pursues its mission of promoting sustainable art and manufacturing practices by employing traditional glassblowing techniques to repurpose discarded glass bottles into small-batch home accessories.
ConsiderBeyond: Can you share with us the early days of Remark Glass and what it became now.
Danielle Ruttenberg: In 2015, the three of us, though initially working independently, found common ground in our early parenting journeys, which sparked the idea of collaboration. We were in an industry that was not conducive to raising families. After looking at the amount of waste that we had seen in our line of work, we decided to repurpose it into something useful. Our initial mission was to create high-end functional wares for everyday use.
After coming up with a business plan and prototypes, we moved into a studio space in a newly opened creative space in South Philadelphia. As we gained traction and our products became more popular, we recognized the opportunity to have a larger impact with the amount of waste we were diverting. Thus, in 2020, we founded our nonprofit, Bottle Underground, to strategically remove waste from the waste stream and design markets for these materials – Remark Glass being one of them. At this point, we have diverted over 250,000 lbs of glass from the waste stream.
ConsiderBeyond: Tell us what fascinates you about glass as a raw material, waste, and a finished product.
Danielle Ruttenberg: Glass, an infinitely recyclable material, can be remelted repeatedly if it's properly maintained. From a design standpoint, the translucency of glass, along with how it interacts with color and light, is really interesting to me. What drew me to it in the first place was the process – the heat and seeing how the material moves. It’s very alluring and addicting.
ConsiderBeyond: Tell us something about (recycled) glass that not many people know about.
Danielle Ruttenberg: Commercial bottle glass that we work with tends to have a stiffer molecular formula so it cools very quickly and doesn’t have a long working time. It’s a challenge but we’ve managed to work with it. One of the main reasons that we decided to work with recycled glass is that our current single-stream recycling system isn’t doing the material justice. It’s devaluing the material and only bringing it to landfill cover.
ConsiderBeyond: Can you walk us through the process of transforming recycled glass bottles and jars into new products? Tell us what innovation is possible with glass waste.
Danielle Ruttenberg: In our design studio, we look at the individual bottles and jars, focusing on their original features such as thickness, color, embossing, and size. We design to those specifications, trying to work within the parameters of what we already have. After a bottle has been selected for upcycling, we initially clean and prepare the bottle to be reshaped. The bottles are gently reheated to a point where we can begin to shift the material. Then, we use tools to reshape the bottle – for instance stretching a wine bottle from a 2.5” opening to a 7” opening so it becomes a bowl.
ConsiderBeyond: The studio in Philadelphia and the community involved have been the backbone of the Remark Glass story. For you and Remark Glass, what is the meaning of community? Tell us how Remark Glass has engaged and interacted with the local community and organizations.
Danielle Ruttenberg: Our local community means so much to our organizations. Community members contribute to our glass recycling efforts, volunteer their time to support our cause, and engage with us regularly. As a small local business, we purposefully provide sustainable and consistent employment opportunities for those in our area who need it most. Philadelphia is extraordinarily diverse and we aim to ensure that members of our community with barriers to employment have the opportunity to find fulfilling employment with us.
ConsiderBeyond: Education is a vital part of moving people towards sustainability. Still a long way to go. What is your experience in educating about recycling glass and the impact related? Tell us about your approach to storytelling and educating people.
Danielle Ruttenberg: For us, it’s important to showcase how this material can be reused. We emphasize that it starts at home with being conscious of what you’re buying and how you’re reusing it in your own home. We encourage our community to take those steps so that it’s not just about our organization and our team, but about tangible actions in people’s homes. We use our social media platforms to amplify and echo these creative ways to deal with waste.
ConsiderBeyond: Any challenges you have experienced along your journey? What have you learned from them.
Danielle Ruttenberg: Growing a small business that is committed to sustainability and fair chance hiring in this political and economic climate is challenging. We’re met with rising inflation costs while trying to ensure that we’re providing fair living wages. We started out in this business as a creative idea and over time my role has shifted from creative and innovative, to becoming a developing leader in a market. It’s an internal challenge to ensure that I’m being the best version of myself for this role.
ConsiderBeyond: Can you share some experiences collaborating with other companies or organizations?
Danielle Ruttenberg: We think about our partnerships both hyper-locally and on a larger scale. Here in the Philadelphia area, we partner with small businesses and makers, such as Vellum Street Soap Company, to supply them with sustainable materials. We provide clean bottles and jars that become the packaging for their goods and ensure that they have a steady supply of material. On a larger scale, we’re currently working with Makers Mark on an exciting project to recycle their bottles into rocks glasses. They are sponsoring a number of collections of their bottles from local bars, which we then melt down and transform into gifts for their employees and partners.
ConsiderBeyond: You have been in this space since 2016. How has the market changed, from your perspective? How do you envision Remark Glass’s role in advancing the sustainable use of glass in the future?
Danielle Ruttenberg: As we’ve grown our brand, we have received a number of inquiries from across the globe eager to replicate our model or try something similar. When we started, there were not many people interested in our process or doing anything in this space. While we haven’t had the bandwidth to engage fully with all of these other interested parties, we’re hopeful that we can be a guiding light for other potential startups, or even transport our process to other parts of the world so that local circular systems can also succeed.
Instagram I @remarkglass
Website I https://remarkglass.com/