This story originally published in Peninsula Clarion.
A desire to recycle more glass on the peninsula has become a long-lasting business for a Nikiski family. In spring 2012, former Nikiski High School student Jenna Bedford won first place in the Caring for the Kenai youth competition with her idea for Alaska Sea Glass.
The business keeps glass out of landfills and the ocean by turning what would be refuse into jewelry. With her $1,600 prize money, Bedford purchased a tumbler that she uses to smooth glass collected from transfer stations.
With the help of Bedford’s mom, Hara Hansen, and sister, Megan Ward, the business has expanded from jewelry to glass etching, mosaics, horsehair accessories and other art pieces. The company also has an interest in using the glass for home projects, like countertops and backsplashes.
“When you add the glass, it adds a lot of colors and brings a new element,” Bedford said.
Q: What are your newest products?
A: Ward: Last year we started etching the glass pieces. We can etch almost any image and we have lots of custom orders.
Hansen: This last year we also have expanded into mosaics and horsehair-braided bracelets and aromatherapy keychains that have felt pads to hold essential oils. Most people hang them from their rearview mirrors in their car.
Q: How do you get your products on the market?
A: Ward: Right now we are doing the Wednesday Market in Soldotna.
Hansen: People also buy them through Facebook. They’ll see stuff on our page and be like ‘I want that!’
Q: How do you get the glass?
A: Bedford: We get the glass from the transfer sites, but a lot of people just save their glass and bring it to us to use.
Q: How do you take a freshly-finished bottle of gin or a beer bottle and turn it into something you can wear around your neck, or use in a mosaic?
A: Bedford: We get as close to (making it look like we are) putting in the sea as we can without actually dumping glass into the ocean. We tumble the glass (using) Cook Inlet waters, with sand and silt.
Ward: Basically we go get the glass, put it in the cement mixer and break it up. Then we put it in a giant tumbler that Jenna bought with her Caring for the Kenai winnings, and we go get sand, rocks, silt and water from Cook Inlet. … Then we bring it back here and put it in the tumbler and it tumbles for seven to 10 days. We get about two gallons of glass from that. Then we have to wash and separate the glass pieces into sizes.
Q: Are you looking to expand your sales?
A: Ward: At this point, we would like to expand, but we have a lot of other commitments, especially in the summer. It’s been so busy.
Hansen: We are definitely wanting to expand. We’ve had people suggest to us to put our products up at a coffee shop, or places like that.
Ward: Right now though, we’re selling almost as quickly as we’re making. This is our first year doing a market like that. It’s been good. It’s been interesting to see what the trend is because octopus, lighthouses, jellyfish and mermaids have been huge this year. Last year it was birds and ravens, and orcas are always really popular. We’re also looking at doing mosaic classes this winter where people can come in and we would provide the glass, the rocks, the sand, and they could bring other stuff and they could make their own mosaic. We’ve done two classes so far.
Hansen: People can message us if they are interested in a class. Right now, our space is limited.
Q: Being a family-run business, how do you divide the work that needs to get done?
Hansen: Megan is the chief web designer, and she is in charge and does all of the photography, product photography, etching and vinyl. Jenna will come in here and whip out a mosaic in nothing flat. It’s worked really well between the three of us. I do the accounts, and buy the products and the pieces. I also have a lot of ideas, like the mosaics. We’ve learned so much along the way.