Ray DelMuro will tell you he likes to make things. But he doesn’t really have to tell you. The chair made out of Patrón tequila bottles outside his office is proof enough. As a kid in Southern California, he built with Legos and customized his BMX bike. As an adult, he spent five years at an aerospace company and became a manager there. But there was a problem. “I had been growing there to the point where I didn’t get to physically make things anymore,” he says. “I felt that wasn’t where my talents were.”
DelMuro (pictured) resigned and spent the next year visiting 21 countries on a trip around the world. When he returned, he moved to Arizona, and in 2008, he founded Refresh Glass, which gave him a new opportunity to make things — this time out of things that get thrown away in abundance every day.
Refresh Glass, based in a business park in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, turns ordinary wine bottles into functional works of art: drinking glasses, candles, carafes and even self-watering planters. At the Refresh facility, the company’s seven employees use a mix of repurposed and newly invented machinery to rinse each bottle, remove the label, cut off the top, melt the rim, stress-relieve the entire piece and wash it. The process usually takes about two days to complete, but it’s taken years for DelMuro and his team to refine.
Some of the items receive custom engraving, and the completed items are sold on Refresh’s website, on Amazon and as corporate gifts. Pieces with minor blemishes are donated to Habitat for Humanity for use in that organization’s new homes and stores.
To acquire the wine bottles, Refresh works with restaurants and bars in the Phoenix area, along with large events such as the Waste Management Phoenix Open golf tournament, to take empty bottles off their hands. Doing so saves those companies money and dumpster space — and allows Refresh to be a partner in the community under what DelMuro calls a “for-profit, for-purpose” model. “It’s possible to pay your employees, and to market for your future, with funds that you generate by creating value,” he says. “We’re solving a problem, but we’re moving the needle at the same time.”
Perhaps more importantly, the process is keeping wine bottles, which can be recycled but often aren’t, out of landfills. As of early 2020, Refresh had repurposed more than 1.6 million bottles, and DelMuro hopes to get to a point where the company can turn out 1 million pieces per year. He’s exploring other ideas for products from wine bottles, and he’s thinking about how other discarded materials could be turned into something new and functional.
What Refresh Glass has already done, though, was enough to earn it an award from the Arizona Recycling Coalition. It hangs outside DelMuro’s office, right above the Patrón chair. The group even asked DelMuro to make the award. He didn’t mind. He likes to make things.
TEMPE Refresh Glass, 941 S. Park Lane, 480-223-2410, refreshglass.com