Oscar Muñoz was only 18 when he began rescuing discarded glass bottles from the trash and transforming them into drinking glasses to sell online. He started Green Glass partly as a reaction to the dismal recycling programs in his native Chile.
But his central motivation was to save his loved ones from financial ruin after their family business closed.
Today, Green Glass not only feeds his parents and siblings, it also provides direct employment to more than 20 people, and indirectly supports the work of street recyclers. In 2018, the business expanded into a larger warehouse space, opened a retail store, and has its sights on a new goal: becoming a million-dollar company.
In Oscar’s words:
“Things for my family business were going well until 2008. Then, we had the major financial crisis. We were shutting down stores, and it was just my mom doing sales abroad. And then those sales were not coming. My parents were building the house that we have now, and they took a huge $500,000 mortgage. They couldn’t pay it. It just went to hell. We started selling everything that we had, including half of the house. The whole economic situation of my family changed.
Seeing my parents without a soul...was hard. I don’t like to remember those times.
We never had any fancy stuff, but there started at some point being less food in the fridge. My parents didn’t know what to do. They didn’t have orders, so there was nothing to produce. Seeing my parents without a soul, very weak, when once I saw them as super powerful and almighty creators—seeing them going to bed at 10 or 11 a.m. because they had nothing to do, it was hard. I don’t like to remember those times.
I was 21 years old at the time. I started asking questions, and I started to see a huge financial hole. They shut down all the credit cards. They shut down the accounts. When I saw that situation, it was really like, ‘Fuck, where have we ended up?’ That’s when I felt that a thousand or two thousand dollars would make a whole difference. I wanted to be a support for my family. I didn’t want us to fail, you know? My dad wasn’t giving orders. He was just defeated. I told him, ‘Man, put your pants on!’
You have to be willing to try and try and try, and try, and make it work.
That period was really frustrating, but it was also the period that made me stronger in some way. That thing, I think, that kills most entrepreneurs is the uncertainty and seeing that what you’re doing is not working. You have to be willing to try and try and try and try, and make it work—your food depends on that thing. I saw in Green Glass the opportunity to have a project. I also saw sustainability—I love taking care of the environment.
But it just started out being about food. Every glass was 20,000 pesos, and with that I could survive half of a week or maybe a week. In the early stages, it was the way of living. It was putting the food on the table.”
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Illustration of Oscar Muñoz by Germán González
Watch as Oscar develops the upcycling startup Green Glass, in pursuit of a greener future for Chile.