Recycling Projects on the Rez

There are projects in New Mexico & Arizona that uniquely combine recycling with culture, art, healing, and the potential for economic development: Tohono O’odham Community College ecoAmbassador Program; New Mexico Experimental Glass, Institute of American Indian Art project; and the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project.

Tribal ecoAmbassador Program

Started in 2011, the EPA Tribal ecoAmbassador Program partners Environmental Protection Agency scientists, Tribal Colleges, and Native students to help solve environmental problems most important to tribal communities.

Tohono O’odham Community College

Dr. David Stone, PhD in Environmental Science, instructor, and EPA’s Tribal ecoAmbassador, wrote grants to propose a recycled glass to building materials project on the Tohono O’odham Reservation in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona.


Students and the community got involved in collecting thousands of bottles that lay scattered in reservation drinking spots under the creosote bushes and saguaros.


Recycled crushed glass is mixed with recycled steel dust and cured with CO2.


The resulting carbon-negative product, resembling cement, was used to make tiles and blocks into benches, sidewalks and walls.  See the project summary document.

Check out some of the media coverage of this fascinating project:
Though the project is no longer funded through EPA, Dr. Stone continues his work on this ecologically friendly alternative to cement that he has patented as Ferrock.

“In these small symbolic acts, we take a step toward a new, more ecological culture beyond the industrial Iron Age. Through the ritual of picking up bottles, of cleaning the desert, we build a space for a new and strong spirit. That is our simple vision. But it will come in its own way and time. We know only that by healing the land we heal ourselves. This is a good path and will bind us and the land together.”      David Stone

New Mexico Experimental Glass &
the Institute of American Indian Arts

In 2011 Stacey Neff, founder and Executive Director of New Mexico Experimental Glass Workshop, applied for a grant from the state Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts to work with the Institute of American Indian Art interns to make their own works out of recycled glass.

The projects of the NMEG & IAIA feature creative works by Native artists to express their cultural heritage, as in Crystal Worl’s Transforming Raven Totem Pole.

glass_ravens_3Crystal Kaakeeyáa Worl Demientieff

Crystal expresses her Tlingit Athabascan heritage by making art that represents her Clan’s crest, the Lukaahadi (Sockeye, Raven Clan).  She made the first recycled glass piece to be collected by a museum; a small raven totem pole cast from typically “non-recyclable” safety glass.  Crystal makes art to remind those who have left home that they come from a special place.

Environmental Justice Grant

The  Zuni Youth Enrichment Project was awarded an EPA Environmental Justice grant; given to non-profit and tribal organizations to develop solutions to local environmental and public health issues.

Zuni Youth Enrichment Project


Zuni Youth Enrichment Project, Zuni Reservation Zuni, NM will sponsor a youth development program to educate Zuni youth about the importance of environmental stewardship from a Native American perspective. Youth participants will become “Ambassadors for Change” by initiating recycling efforts and hosting discussions on the local Tribal radio station. Students will learn about efforts to protect native lands through hands-on interactive sessions with the Zuni Department of Natural Resources that includes visits to ecologically important places on the Reservation.

Red Rock Ballon Rally Photo
Courtesy of Bruce Schuurmann