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MAY 2007
The main lagoon floor was painted with different colors of recycled glass, before it was filled with water.

Disney creates art with recycled glass

The Disney organization makes it a point to be environmentally responsible, and that means more than picking up discarded Micky ears at the parks. Imagineers, those folks responsible for designing the Disney parks, found a unique way to use recycled glass when building the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage ride at the Disneyland Resort in California. The recycled glass was used to “paint” the interior of the submarine tank along with underwater landscape features like coral.

One reason for the new process was environmental. Paints that were acceptable years before are no longer considered environmentally friendly. “We’ve become much more limited in the paints we can use,” Imagineer Susan Dain said. She was the one who came up with the solution to the problem.

“We’re constantly dealing with fading issues,” Dain said, noting that the full sun is tough on colors at Disney locations, but the situation was made worse by the chlorinated water that would fill the submarine lagoon.

Dain took her inspiration from glazes found on ancient pottery, stained glass windows and beach glass, all of which manage to keep their colors over time, and despite exposure to harsh elements.

Dain said she asked herself, “I wonder if I can paint with glass?” She started getting samples of different sized glass chips and various epoxies to test the process.

Finally, she settled on two sizes of glass fragments, one the size of kosher salt flakes and the second the size of rock salt. She explained, “the larger the size [glass], the deeper the color, but as it becomes closer to powder, it becomes paler.”

Susan Dain examines one of the corals that was painted with recycled glass.

The process consisted of applying the epoxy, then broadcasting the glass in layers, starting out light and following with darker colors. The smaller pieces filled the gaps between the larger pieces, and overall “it looks like it was airbrushed,” Dain said. “It has a beautiful effect.”

Dain bought 30 tons of recycled glass from a company in Utah that crushes and remelts used glass and “re-colors it for industrial use.” From the selection of colors that company offered, Dain mixed her own colors, coming up with 48 shades that were used in the project.

As she was finalizing her selections, she realized, “This will be fun; I get to name my colors,” and came up with names like Peritwinkle, Mango Mud, Lichen Lime, and COW, which stands for Cream of Wheat.

Dain said that while the process was a success, it has limited use in public venues, “Even though the glass is tumbled, it has sharp edges.” She compared it to “very, very, very rough sandpaper,” and said that she told workers in the lagoon, “Don’t worry about [walking on] the glass, worry about your shoes.” She said that no one had treads left on their shoes when they were done.

Even though the sharp edges have a downside, Dain noted that the different facets catch the light, giving it a quality you wouldn’t find with other processes. So, while the use may be limited to items that won’t be touched, she was confident that “there will be other applications.”

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