Glass Recovery and Sustainable Systems (GRASS) Baltimore, a member of the 2021-22 Social Innovation Lab cohort, was founded by Donte Swinton.
SIL: Tell us about your company. What are you working on?
Dante Swinton: I’m working on a glass waste cooperative that will take bottles of glass from restaurants and residences and turn them into artwork. We also will provide glassworking classes and clean bottles to resell to local breweries as well as offer room for local and traveling artists to sell or perform their works. We will be a sustainable maker and exhibit space.
SIL: Why did you decide to start GRASS Baltimore?
I’ve been working on moving Baltimore toward zero waste for the last six years, advocating for the closure of the city’s trash incinerator — its largest air polluter. Getting to zero waste is where environmental and economic justice meet: Reusing, recycling, and composting creates exponentially more jobs than burning or burying materials. A material like glass is infinitely recyclable, but we recover very little. Nearly 20,000 tons of glass are incinerated every year in Baltimore.
SIL: What constitutes success for you?
Success for GRASS is having several restaurants divert their glass through us so we can reuse it as much as possible. It also means we have developed young POC entrepreneurs who co-own GRASS with its parent nonprofit. Three of our five workers will be 18–35-year-olds from the Westport neighborhood in Baltimore, the home of the incinerator. I think it’s critical to lift a model of the future by supporting people who live in the shadow of a toxic history.
SIL: What have you accomplished so far?
We have started our proof of concept, getting a dozen pieces produced by an existing glass studio in Baltimore. We are on our way to getting another 40 pieces produced for sale in the next six weeks. GRASS also has raised $37,800 on our way to our $145,600 goal for the first year. We have also been excited to participate in the Social Innovation Lab and Innovation Works’ accelerator programs.
SIL: How can people get involved in supporting you in your venture?
You can donate to GRASS through our parent nonprofit, Energy Justice Network, and state it’s for GRASS! We are in transition to a new nonprofit parent this spring.
SIL: What do you like most about the Baltimore entrepreneurial community? What would you like to see more of?
I like that there are so many great ideas either on the ground or on the way to operating that will lift this city. I would like to see more zero-waste businesses established because there are so many materials we can recover. Diverting 70% of the materials that we throw away through traditional waste disposal would create 1,800 full-time jobs in Baltimore. Imagine the impact of 1,800 families having living-wage work because we reuse, recycle and compost things instead of burning and burying them.
SIL: What advice do you have for would-be social entrepreneurs thinking about starting a venture?
Do it! Now is the time. There are many areas of need in our city, and social entrepreneurship is crucial to economic justice. It can be tough attracting funding but don’t let that deter your vision.
SIL: How have you grown personally during your time in the Accelerator?
Absolutely! Social entrepreneurs have to keep learning. Every meeting makes me think, “How can or should I apply this information to GRASS?”
Read more about GRASS here. To learn more about the Social Innovation Lab and the 2020–22 cohort, click here. Join them at the SIL Innovators’ Showcase event, 4–6 p.m. on April 26.