Broken Arrow Glass creatively upcycles and repurposes Santa Fe’s glass




Santa Fe New Mexican


As the proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” That was certainly the case for one mother, Shelby Kaye, whose necessity and ingenuity led to Broken Arrow Glass Recycling. The creative glass recycling program is meeting deep demand in Santa Fe by upcycling glass into handmade homewares and decorative landscaping materials. Today’s iteration of Broken Arrow took root in 2019, when harmful materials kept the then-pregnant New York University–trained fine art sculptor from making molds. She was eager for another creative outlet. Noticing that her pregnancy craving for kombucha churned out empty glass bottles by the dozen, the artist, who had previously studied at the Pilchuck Glass School and worked in glassblowing with then husband Chris Bogle, saw ample materials. She started turning the bottles into tea candle holders and selling them at the Railyard Artisan Market on weekends. She bought more kombucha with the proceeds. “It was my first peek at a closed-loop system,” she says. In 2020 the pandemic descended and closed both the art market and Santa Fe’s Buckman Road Recycling & Transfer Station, where Santa Feans drop off their glass for recycling. While spending hours every day driving her two small children around so they would nap, Kaye noticed glass piling up outside homes. Posts on Facebook Buy Nothing groups quickly generated names of homeowners eager to have their glass picked up, and Kaye obliged. As piles of color-sorted salsa jars and gin bottles grew, so did the business. In September 2021, Broken Arrow officially morphed into a zero-waste, closed-loop glass recycling company offering curbside pickup. Kaye is exclusively at the helm. The company collects from some 200 households a month in Santa Fe and Los Alamos. Businesses such as Shine Pet Food and Dolina Bakery & Café are also on its pickup route. It collects 18,000 bottles — around 9 tons of glass — a month, thus diverting it from landfills. Kaye and operations manager Rosemary Jane McDowell can upcycle only 200 to 300 of these bottles in the studio each month, even as they’ve grown the studio line from glasses and napkin rings to include items such as bells and ornaments. These items are available in their studio, online, and in shops such as Modern Folk Ware in Santa Fe. Shoppers can also visit Broken Arrow’s gallery and studio in person; it’s housed at a former gas station along U.S. 84/285 north of town. The location’s poignancy isn’t lost on Kaye, whose mother worked in the fossil fuel industry. “I always struggled with the fact that she supported me by winning lawsuits for the oil and gas industry,” she says. Most of the glass Broken Arrow receives is destined for grinding in a gargantuan machine that chews up bottles and jars by the thousands and emits a screeching, thumping noise similar to the sound of a spoon caught in a garbage disposal. It’s also known for spraying shards of glass and chucking the occasional broken bottle back at the operator. Kaye’s operating an ongoing GoFundMe campaign to finance and operate bigger, higher-capacity equipment. The sheer volume of glass Broken Arrow receives pushes Kaye toward industry rather than artistry these days; however, she continues to find creative outlets for the glass. “I’m creatively inspired by nontraditional applications of the material and trying to use every part of it to create a closed-loop business,” she says. Broken Arrow crushes much of the glass it receives into decorative landscaping materials. Kaye has worked with Roswell’s Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art and Santa Fe’s Reunity Resources to create landscaping glass installations. She’s also partnering with the Santa Fe Children’s Museum to create an installation and recycling exhibit; it’s set to debut this summer. Kaye uses the crushed glass to create terrazzo, a material that’s synonymous with flooring. However, she sees it as a sculptural material and has used it in her fine art practice. Kaye has only recently thought of herself as an entrepreneur. She cemented that identity at the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce’s 2022 Business Achievement Awards, which she attended by chance, having no idea she was even nominated for an award. Much to Kaye’s surprise, she left with the Small Business of the Year Award. “Winning that award made me realize we were a business,” she says. With publications from Forbes to The Economist calling sustainability a top business trend of 2023, Kaye says eco-consciousness is accessible for any type of business — not just ones like hers that place it at the center of operations. “Mother Earth is where it’s at,” she says. “People say, ‘We only have our health.’ Well, we only have this earth. I’ve dedicated my life to help the community and the earth. We need to find every resource, every piece of waste to be reused. Any company can think more about how to operate in a closed-loop way, minimize waste, and incorporate usable material into new products.”