cullet shortage

Glass shortage has blowers holding their breath

Coast artisans coping with a lack of cullet glass are trying solutions ranging from a raffle to all-night "cooking" to stay afloat during their busy season

On the Oregon Coast, creating a work of glass art is a bucket-list favorite, and there’s plenty of places to make that happen. But recent weeks have stressed some mom-and-pop glassblowing studios to the point of, well, a meltdown. It seems there’s just not enough glass to go around.

Robin and William Murphy, owners of the Oregon Coast Glassworks in Newport, ran into problems earlier this month when they tried to buy a new supply of “cullet” glass – furnace-ready recycled glass pellets that glassblowers turn into floats, bowls, and other art. There was “no glass anywhere available for purchase,” Robin Murphy said. Nor would there be any until November, they were told. The shortage seems to be the culmination of stricter environmental laws, which led to a cutback in suppliers, compounded most recently by heavy demands on an overseas supplier.

William Murphy begins creating a piece of glass art in his Oregon Glassworks studio in Newport. Photo by: Lori Tobias

The Murphys have launched a fundraising raffle – of a glass sea turtle crafted by William – to help finance a new furnace that will melt “batch,” a pelletized powder that is an alternative to cullet. It requires a natural gas furnace or what’s known in the industry as a “moly” (short for molybdenum) furnace – a piece of equipment that generally comes with a price tag ranging from $30,000 to $50,000. The Murphys have a less expensive wire-melt furnace, but it doesn’t get hot enough to melt batch.

“We’re the little kids on the block,” William Murphy said. “Our systems can only melt glass that has been turned into little pellets. Bigger companies can melt batch. Batch is a Betty Crocker cake mix – you have to add cake and temperature and time. Cullet is like a Lunchable. You just melt it and use it.”

Oregon Coast Glassworks isn’t the only small shop facing the shortage. The Edge Art Gallery in South Beach is also experiencing it, as is the Lincoln City Glass Center. One of the largest of the dozen or so glassblowers on the central and north Coast with 21 employees, the Glass Center does have a “moly” furnace, capable of melting batch or cullet. Owner and glass artist Kelly Howard prefers to use cullet, but she also has been unable to get any.