October 21, 2005 - #49
Separating trash for recycling: we could do better
While the beaches and street of the island serve as a backdrop for photo shoots for the likes of Tommy Bahama, Calvin Klein, and Victoria's Secret, City Hall has been busy renewing the partnership agreement between the municipality and Eco Emballages.
Since 1992, all industries that sell pre-packaged household products are required by the French government to recycle, or have someone else recycle, the packaging. Eco Emballages was developed as a sub-contractor for French businesses who hire the company to handle their recycling. Eco Emballages shares the money paid by the businesses with its partner communities. The company currently has contracts with 33,000 communities who have signed up to collect and separate five materials: steel, aluminum, paper, plastic, and glass. In exchange, Eco Emballages pays them a sum relative to the tons of recycling collected. They also pay for the recycling and transportation of the materials.
In 1998, Saint Barth was the first French overseas community to sign a contract with Eco Emballages. The contract was drawn up based on the size of the island, and contains a special clause accepted by the Minister of the Environment. As a result, the island is only required to collect three materials for recycling: steel, aluminum, and glass. Paper and plastic can be mixed with household trash and are burned at the local incineration plant, which in turn produces steam that aids in the production of desalinated ocean water.
The area around the incinerator in Public has slowly been set-up to better deal with selective trash collection. There is a new area for separating materials, a new crushing machine, and the modern incinerator itself is the only one of its kind in the Caribbean.
Compressed car bodies and iron are sent by barge to Venezuela. Aluminum and batteries go by ship container to France, and glass is shipped to Bordeaux where it is used to fabricate bottles. This solution works technically, but is not the best in terms of economic or environmental considerations. The directors of Eco Emballages looked for other, less complicated or less expensive, solutions for the long term. In the Caribbean, they found two glass factories, one in Trinidad and one in Santo Domingo, but no deal could be made as these two factories make bottles out of clear glass and most of the glass collected on the island is tinted. And in fact, it turns out that the cost of transporting the glass from Saint Barth to Santo Domingo was twice as much as between Saint Barth and Bordeaux.
Another problem is the saturation of the European market in terms of recycled glass, so another solution had to be found. After thinking of someplace close by, the idea was proposed for a recycling center in Saint Martin. A company in Saint Barth, in conjunction with Eco Emballages, presented the plans for an industrial center that would manufacture sand and gravel from recycled glass collected in the Caribbean islands. These materials could be used as a bottom layer for road paving, for putting in pipes, or filtering swimming pool water. This recycling plant is under construction and should be operational by early 2006.
The majority of the residents of Saint Barth understand the importance of recycling, but there are still those who do not comply. Many have gotten used to separating glass, aluminum, and other metals into clear plastic bags that the municipal garbage service collects every week. Close 750 tons of glass are collected but the potential is closer to 1000 tons. As for steel and aluminum, the total collected had diminished from 2002 to 2004. In 2002, 14.7 tons of aluminum, primarily cans, were collected from households. In 2004 the figure had decreased to just 10.7 tons, or a decrease of 28%. The number of cans from canned food decreased by 15%.
While the numbers show that Saint Barth is a good student who could do even better, the island is certainly the leader in the overseas communities when it comes to recycling. The islands of Martinique and Reunion have recently started recycling as well. As for Guadeloupe and Guyana, in spite of the obligatory regulations, these locales do not yet have a plan in place for the collection and treatment of recyclable trash.
More to come