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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Green House Girl 3: Giving the Brooklyn Navy Yard a Try

by Elizabeth Kuster

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This time: I tour the IceStone factory and learn that “three-mix” doesn’t mean what you think it does. (Get your minds out of the gutter, people!) 

 The IceStone cameth for me last week—or at least the factory tour did. IceStone (makers of a recycled-glass building/home décor material) is providing products that will be used in the Show House, and when I found out the factory is located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I was stoked to visit. I’ve lived in Brooklyn a long time, and from afar, the Yard has always seemed a magical, mysterious place that I, a non-naval female, would probably never enter. Thanks to Ilya, IceStone’s PR guy, I had my golden ticket (or, more accurately, a white slip of paper to show the security guard).

In my mind, the Brooklyn Navy Yard was a grassy, sunlit knoll peopled by sailors sporting white bellbottoms (yes, I have Gene Kelly syndrome). What’s it really like? Well, it’s a creepy maze of deserted factories, warehouses with broken windows and weird little blacktop “streets” that are mostly just potholes. Not many women venture here.

Ilya gave me a hard hat (my second during this blog-writing experience!) and led me to the factory floor. Everyone at IceStone seemed preternaturally cheerful. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the factory workers had suddenly broken into a rendition of "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah"—the work environment is just that nice. For one thing, the factory floor is daylit, and sunlight streams through the big, airy space. (There's a lighting system in place for dark days, but only a few bulbs were on the day I was there, even though it was gray and rainy.) Talk about great feng shui!

IceStone—which is made from recycled glass and concrete—is twice as strong as marble, scratch- and stain-resistant, comes in every color imaginable, can be used anywhere you can use stone, and is really pretty. It’s also “cradle-to-cradle” certified (which is a fancy way of saying that it’s made from 100 percent recycled material and is itself 100 percent recyclable).

Important note: The recycled cement’s local, but the recycled glass has to come from outside New York State because the government chuckleheads here apparently think New Yorkers are incapable of separating glass by color. New York recycling produces something called “three-mix”—a big jumble of clear, brown and green glass that has to be sent elsewhere for sorting.

That sorted glass was the first thing Ilya showed me: Dozens of bags of post-consumer, post-industrial glass separated by color and particle size. (Picture big white bags containing bluish, green, and amber jewels.)  Next, he led me to an enormous stone polisher, which uses water to smooth the finished slabs of IceStone. The water and excess cement collect in these inviting-looking pools that resemble spa mudbaths. As the excess cement dries, it forms sludgy-looking slurry cakes—which presumably aren’t as yummy as they sound.

As we strolled through the factory, Ilya informed me that IceStone has a “triple bottom line”:

He pointed out the compost bins that dot the site, then threw his arm out in a wide gesture. “We use a soy-based lube in all our machines,” he said. “They love it!” 

IceStone is looking for more ways to kick its greenness up a notch. The company is developing a state-of-the-art water-recycling system that will significantly decrease water usage while filtering water down to micron-level. Employees are also exploring carbon-offset options and are even trying to come up with a viable way to reuse the slurry cakes. (I’m thinking they’d make great facial masks....)

IceStone is producing a material much more eco-friendly than its alternative, stone. Ilya hates it when people say stone is “natural.” “I never call it ‘natural stone,’” he says. “I call it ‘mined stone.’ I mean, just because something’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s good!” According to Ilya, mined stone is a limited resource, the mining process is notoriously toxic and most stone now comes from India and China—where many quarry workers are bonded laborers. (If you want to depress yourself by reading more about this and other forms of modern slavery, check out Canadian journalist Joan Delaney’s piece.)

As my tour of the IceStone factory came to an end and I made my way out of the Brooklyn Navy Yard (possibly for good) I had to show my pass to the security guard one last time. He looked at it and then looked at me. “This is the most beautiful pass I’ve gotten all day,” he said.

You and me both, dude. You and me both.

Next time: I learn that construction supervisors have to be great meteorologists.