Keeping St. John Green:  One Can & Piece of Plastic at a Time

Keeping St. John Green: One Can & Piece of Plastic at a Time

Good Morning, Good Morning!  Many of you may, or may not, be aware that America Recycles Day is just around the corner.  On November 15, organizations dedicated to keeping America beautiful will celebrate, promote and educate for recycling in the United States.  Which is great!  But many, perhaps most, recycling programs around the nation are run by a municipality and/or government funded.  Here, on St. John, we have even more reason to celebrate recycling.  First, because up until just three short years ago, we had almost no recycling program at all.  And second, we are now able to say “cheers” to keeping aluminum cans and select plastics out of our landfills.  And for that, we owe a huge thanks to the CHARITY who makes sure we have the ability to do just that:  Island Green Living.

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Plastic recycling on St. John is TRULY a reason to celebrate thanks to Island Green Living!

I’m not going to bore you today with all of the nitty gritty on why recycling is good and tsk-tsking about why you should recycle.  No, today we are here to celebrate some accomplishments of St. John’s little recycling program that could and inform about some fun factoids that you might not know about how we recycle.  On an island.  In the middle of the ocean.

First, things first…to date, Island Green Living’s recycling program has diverted 2.9 MILLION cans from our islands’ landfills.  That’s ALOT of cans, right?  Well, additionally, they started recycling #1, #2 and #5 plastics less than two years ago.  And in that time, this 501(c)3 NON-PROFIT organization has recycled SIXTY THOUSAND POUNDS of plastic waste!!!  Now, that is something to celebrate!

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Now, think for a minute about how light plastic is.  A twelve-ounce plastic Coca-Cola bottle, empty of liquid but including the weight of the cap, weighs about half an ounce.  So, if there are 16 ounces in a pound, which there are, that means that there are 32 plastic coca cola bottles in one pound.  By that math and the tonnage, the equivalent of 1.9 MILLION plastic Coca Cola bottle have been sent off island to be recycled instead of going to the landfill on St. Thomas.  Again, let’s have a celebration for that.  Cheers!

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Crushing plastics!

So you might be thinking about the carbon footprint and cost of shipping, etc. for recycling all of this waste.  Well, first let me tell you a bit about Island Green’s partnership with PADNOS and membership in the Ocean Bound Plastics program.

PADNOS is a fourth-generation, family-owned company based out of Holland, Michigan.  They are a leader in the recycling and scrap waste management industry and work with Island Green to get our plastics safely off island and to their facility.  Driven by their purpose statement to “continue to find ways to innovate, lead and make a positive impact in this world,” PADNOS teamed up with Island Green in late 2021 with determination to keep our “Ocean Bound Plastics” out of the sea.

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The recycling operations are located behind the VITEMA building at the ReSource Depot on Gifft Hill Road. Stop by, drop off a donation, crush some cans and check out the work being done!

Now, Ocean Bound Plastics are not like Ocean Plastics.  Those are cleaned up off the beaches, they are found already in the water.  No, think of the Ocean Bound Plastics program as a preventative means.  To keep plastic OUT of the oceans to begin with.  In a nutshell, Ocean Bound Plastic is defined as plastic waste with a threat of ending up in the ocean.

“Ocean Bound Plastic is Abandoned Plastic Waste of all size (micro-plastics to macro-plastics) located within the range of 50km (31 miles) from shore in communities or areas where waste management is inexistent or very inefficient.” -PADNOS

So, we qualified, right?

But what kind of assurances can we have that OUR plastics aren’t just ending up back in a landfill somewhere else?  Or creating more of a problem than the one we are aiming to solve.  Well, I spoke with Island Green Living‘s Executive Director, Kelly McKinney last week and she assured me of some nuances of the Ocean Bound Plastics program that can help us sleep a little easier at night about our on-island plastic program in comparison to some other recycling processes.

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“The perceived deficient is true for some recycling programs, but not all programs.  And specifically, not ours and others certified by the Ocean Bound Plastics program,” said Mckinney.  “We are never going to recycle our way out of the single use plastic problem.  But recycling is an essential cog in the wheel of waste management.  Recycling for metals has worked well for hundreds of years.  Yes, recycling plastic will degrade over time.  But consumers and donors can feel confident that the plastic coming through this program is truly being recycled.  Each shipment is being audited by a third party that tracks materials from the source all the way to becoming a new product.

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So, PADNOS is shipping all of our #1, #2 and #5 plastics, collected and processed by Island Green volunteers and staff members, to their facility in Michigan where the plastic is recycled.  They not only recycle the plastics in the Ocean program.  They also turn that recycled plastic into products that they resell…Re-using SHOULD always be the number one initiative in a sustainable mind!

That’s not all.  PADNOS also developed a mini-processing facility, self-powered, self-contained and capable of baling three different types of types of plastic in order to better serve these communities where resources like space, power and man (or woman) power might be an issue.  If you’re curious as to what that looks like, pop-up to the ReSource Depot on Gifft Hill Road to take a look at the one Island Green received from PADNOS in action!

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According to McKinney, PADNOS’ initial donation was the twenty-foot shipping container that was retrofitted to be a mini-processing facility and the three bunker bailer inside.  But they also donated the four recycling collection bins seen at the dump sites at Gifft Hill, the basketball courts, Love City Mini Mart and the fuel dock AND $15k towards the truck used for collections.  YAY PADNOS!

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McKinney also wanted me to remind all of you how incredibly instrumental all of your donations have been to keep this program going!  Whether it was an outright donation, the purchase of a raffle ticket (or twenty!), shopping or donating your gently used items at the ReSource Depot thrift store on Gifft Hill or volunteering some time to crush cans or help with any of the programs.  Well, every little bit helps.  Because the business model of this program is the only thing about it that is NOT sustainable.

She quickly broke down the costs of the recycling program for me as we chatted.  And, well, keep those donations coming because the numbers are a bit crushing…Pun intended.

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It costs Island Green roughly $200 per bale to process the plastics and aluminum cans.  One pallet can hold twelve bales and one container can hold up to eighteen pallets.  So, my math on this gets me a total of right around $40k PER CONTAINER.  That’s not including shipping, which PADNOS generously covers.  Additionally, they give Island Green around $5-7k per container.  But that still leaves $30k out of pocket for this non-profit organization to cover cost-wise to keep the recycling program going.

Why the high operating costs?  Well one of the reasons is that man (or woman) hours are dedicated to it.  Every single piece of plastic and aluminum that go through the recycling program on St. John are processed BY HAND.  Yes, there are some volunteers.  But the ones holding it down and overseeing the process are Island Green staffers.

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Sorting plastics! Cheers to the Island Green Recycling Team! Buy these guys a drink if you see them out and about!

“This is one of the first (Ocean Bound Plastics) designations of this kind in the US and Island Green Living just completed it,” said McKinney.  “It’s about social responsibility as much as it is environmental responsibility.  All of our people are paid a good living wage, even by St. John standards.”

At this time, I would like to remind all of your diligent St. John recyclers out there (YAY you!) to remember that people, who some of you may know personally, are hand sorting every single piece of aluminum and plastic that you drop off to be recycled.  Sorting is not necessary.  You can drop all of your #1, #2 and #5 plastics and aluminum cans together!  Yes, the lids to plastic containers can also be recycled but they should be removed and submitted separately.  And EVERYTHING that is submitted for recycling should get a good solid rinse to prevent bugs and mold and all kinds of other fun things that the sorting squad might encounter.  Me?  I just add my plastics and aluminum to my dishes.  Wash it all and toss the recyclables in the bin instead of the dish drainer.  Bonus?  It also cuts down on bugs in your own home!  Easy peasy!

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In a long-winded nutshell, ANY form of recycling program on an island as remote as St. John is a true reason to celebrate!  It’s an expensive process with a TON of planning and operational oversight involved.  It is not only Island Green Living and their fruitful partnership with PADNOS, but also each and every one of you out there donating, recycling, volunteering.  You help to keep this going and keep the ridiculous number of single-use plastics in play on St. John out of the beautiful seas surrounding us.

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And you can continue to support recycling on St. John!  Island Green Living is currently running a fundraiser in conjunction with America Recycles Day with a goal of $150k to continue to fund our not-so-little recycling program.  They have a generous donor who is willing to match $50k but your donations will help them reach their goal.  Consider a small monthly donation that will help to cover the costs of your personal recyclables while on island.  If this was a municipality run program, there would likely be a tax for both residents and visitors to support it.  But, Island Green is running this program simply via grants, their partnership with PADNOS and donations, no matter how large or how small, from people like us!  Consider taking a few moments today to DONATE and CELEBRATE recycling on St. John!

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1 thought on “Keeping St. John Green: One Can & Piece of Plastic at a Time”

  1. So glad recycling has started in earnest on St. John. We have been recycling in the campground for awhile.

    We humans create so much waste and we foul our own environment.

    Anne Mahaney
    Westchester County, NY

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