(CNS): Given the economies of scale, it is very difficult to generate a profit from recycling in Cayman but it is an essential part of addressing the growing waste problem and government needs to make the necessary investment, according to Former Cabinet minister Rolston Anglin, who is co-owner of Junk, a recycling business. He said the company was pulling out of collecting recylable garbage from supermarkets because it costs more to collect and ship the recyclables than it can sell them for. “Trash ain’t treasure,” he said.
“It is a myth that recycling is a lucrative market,” Anglin told CNS.
The former education and employment minister said Junk would continuing in the recycling business as it has private sector clients that pay for the collection service, but the company was no longer in a position to subsidise the supermarket collections. He said pick-ups were reaching five days a week because of the amount of recycling that was being dropped off but the supermarkets were paying only a small contribution towards the actual cost of collection.
“It was essentially a public service where Junk was trying to demonstrate to government and get its attention that people will take their recyclable materials to the supermarket,” Anglin said.
The government had plans to introduce its own recycling project and Junk was the only company to bid on a recent request for proposals for collecting all recyclables from eight locations five days a week, sorting and then shipping out the material.
Anglin said he had costed that project at around $488,000 per year but government said it was too expensive. The former minister said he believed that the bid offered value for money and that it was as low as the firm could go based on what government wanted. He said that while he had no intention to run in the 2017 election he may in future go back into politics, so he was not trying to milk the public purse.
He showed documents to CNS that demonstrated the cost of collecting, sorting and shipping the recyclables to the US and the rates Junk receives in return for the materials and said it was clear there was very little treasure to be found in Cayman’s trash.
The average price Junk gets for a pound of paper and cardboard is just 3.5 cents, while plastic generates only around 6 cents a pound. Aluminum cans are one of the few commodities that can generate a small profit, though the price that Junk gets is around 26 cents at present, some 50% down on prices last year, Anglin noted.
But around the world, he said, most governments subsidise waste-management schemes, especially recycling, as it is not just about money but the environment.
Recycling on a small island with low volumes, Junk has no negotiating power and they are forced to sell to the middle men, so they don’t get the best price, Anglin explained. But he said many Junk customers are willing to pay because they don’t want to see the dump continuing to grow and, in the absence of government action, recognise that we have to do something to reduce the amount of rubbish going into the landfill.
The only way to make recycling viable was to ensure that everyone is recycling, which means government must invest in a national collection programme to generate the volume to improve their negotiating power and cover the costs, he said. Junk is still talking to government about sorting and shipping if it decides to take over the collection, and Anglin said he hoped that in time CIG would come back to the table and between them they could work out a viable solution.
It is now not clear when, or even if, government will take over the recycling sites just as shoppers were getting used to sorting glass, cans, plastics and paper and dropping them in the skips on their regular supermarket visits.
Roy McTaggart, the councillor in the premier’s ministry, which deals with environmental health, told CNS that officials were working to ensure that the expanded recycling programme, initially started as a commercial initiative by Junk, continues once they ceased providing the service this coming weekend. But he was not able to give details and asked members of the public to monitor the ministry’s website and the Department of Environmental Health for further updates.
The premier and ministry officials made a number of announcements last year that indicated that a recycling service as well as a composting programme would have been well under way by the start of this year, but as 2016 gets close to its halfway point, the level of recycling appears set to decline rather than expand.