published Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Jeweler taps bottles


by Tamara Best
Audio clip

Tara McRae Kestner

A love for art plus a desire for green living led Tara McRae Kestner to create Baby Steps to a Better Earth, a jewelry company whose products are made from recycled materials.

"I'm not a big recycling company, but I want to take on what I can and do something that's economical for me to make and good for the consumer," said Mrs. Kestner, owner of the jewelry line from Ringgold, Ga. She sells earrings and pendants for $5 and platters for $10-$20.

Mrs. Kestner, who said she has been involved in art and jewelry her entire life, said the idea came to fruition when her mother bought a kiln at a yard sale.

A stay-at-home mom, she decided to experiment with melting bottles out of curiosity.

GLASS RECYCLING BY THE NUMBERS

* 80 percent of recovered glass containers are made into new bottles

* 13 million glass jars and bottles are recycled every day by Americans

* 18 percent of glass bottles reach consumers at bars and restaurants

* $5.5. billion: annual revenue of the glass container industry

Source: earth911.com

She first reached out to the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga, which gave her empty liquor bottles.

"We decided to do it because we were intrigued by her idea and we recycle the bottles anyway," said Bill Mish, general manager for Doubletree.

Though she says that she works with any colored glass, Mrs. Ketsner said wine bottles are pretty and offer versatility.

Mrs. Kestner also receives bottles from Ruby Tuesday, Las Reyes Mexican Cuisine and Don Lolo's Mexican Restaurant in Ringgold, picking up 30 bottles on average on biweekly visits.

"It's like I'm the crazy lady who carries out boxes of liquor bottles and wine bottles," she said. "But they all have all been very supportive and save the bottles for me."

However, turning the bottles into earrings, pendants and platters isn't a quick or seamless process.

"All of this has been a learning process, some of my mistakes are really pretty, though," she said.

The bottles have to be soaked, cleaned, dried, crushed and molded before they can become jewelry or platters. On average from start to finish, the process for a given object takes three days.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Matt Fields-Johnson/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tara McRae Kestner turns old wine bottles and other glass into jewelery by crushing them and melting them in a kiln and polishing them into earrings and pendants that she sells and wears herself.

Ask Mrs. Kestner, and she'll tell you her biggest inspiration is her newborn daughter, Meadow, whose facial expressions helped inspire her the creation of the Keepsake Memorial Pendant. The pendant, $50 with a sterling silver chain, contains a lock of hair melted within layers of crushed glass that Mrs. Kestner said looks like a "spirit."

Business is picking up, with sales of platters at local gift shops and at the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Chattanooga.

"The platters have been very popular, it's unique and a conversation piece that many people don't see when they are traveling," Mr. Mish said. Several staffers wear earrings from the jewelry line.

Mrs. Kestner said showcasing her work at jewelry parties is helping to drum up business. She hopes to start showing her work at local craft shows.

And with every bottle, she and her family see potential for a new creation.

"None of us looks at glass the same," she said.

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