Plastic waste recycling challenges generate new business opportunities

By Elesha George

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A decrease in revenue from plastic waste exports – coupled with the rising cost of doing business – has made it almost mandatory for Antigua and Barbuda to find innovative ways to recycle normally discarded items.

“Maybe 10 years ago we were getting 15 cents a pound for shredding plastic, we’re only getting about three or four cents a pound right now,” said Mario Bento, president of Antigua- et-Barbuda Waste Recycling Corp (ABRWC).

“Rising freight and handling costs, oil prices are rising and it’s becoming a bigger problem every day, so it makes less and less sense to export recyclable materials from the island.”

He said it was also difficult to find export markets for the country’s plastic waste, most of which otherwise ends up in landfill. In 2017, for example, China banned the import of most plastic waste, forcing a decline in the global plastic waste trade.

“Before, the model was to collect materials, compact them, grind them, and then ship it all to China. That was no longer an option, so we really need to find innovative ways to keep recycling,” Bento explained.

According to an audit conducted by Asia Pacific Waste Consultants (APWC) in 2020, which Bento shared at the Antigua and Barbuda Recycling Day Symposium on March 18 – World Recycling Day, 3,800 tonnes of plastic are imported into Antigua each year, of which 3,250 tons actually reach the landfill.

“Seventeen percent of that is unaccounted for…meaning it went into the environment; either it is in the marine environment or it is retained in reservoirs or waste around the island,” he said.

The audit, according to Bento, also showed that the ABWRC (an original Rotary Sundown project) only recycled 3% of this plastic waste.

So what is the solution ? Well, the ABWRC is considering implementing a plastic bottle refund policy – ​​similar to that undertaken by the Department of Health last year – as a means of reducing waste. Customers would receive a small fee for recycling their plastic containers once this takes effect. This is expected to increase recycling rates in the country.

Another idea is to make items such as furniture from plastic instead of exporting it.

One of the speakers at the recent symposium, marine project manager at the National Union for the Conservation of Nature, Joao Sousa, believes that the solution should start by trying to understand the source of the waste, qualify it and quantify it. , then warn them. to enter the oceans.

To do this, he said, we need to calculate how much plastic, and in what format and quantity, is generated by each sector; what can be recycled to create new value chains and new products; and identify what can be done with non-recyclable plastics.

“All the plastic in the ocean used to be in our hands and we just let it slide,” he remarked.

The objective is to stimulate the economy through employment by using inorganic waste to create circular economy solutions by supporting economically viable projects.

Grant Kendzior, CEO and Founder of Eco Breakthroughs, has just the project that could potentially further reduce Antigua’s plastic waste problem.

His project, EcoCenter, which he launched in 2019, helps “ecopreneurs” start a sustainable business from recycled plastic waste.

EcoCenter acts as a main hub and uses recycling machines and other tools as well as online education and coaching and support for ecopreneurs.

“We focus on people, planet and profit equally,” he said, explaining that the company serves people in the early stages of development, before launching a startup.

He hopes to expand this initiative in Antigua after noting that the country was named among the world’s top polluters per capita at a United Nations meeting in 2019. It was one of 10 Caribbean countries that made the list. , did he declare.

Access to ideas and networking like his was made possible through the IUCM’s Plastic Waste Free Islands project, which was funded by the Norwegian government to promote circular economy solutions to plastic waste and create income in the Caribbean.

Companies like Antigua and Barbuda Waste Recycling Corp, Zero Waste Antigua and Barbuda NGO, Will’s Recycling and the National Solid Waste Management Authority made special presentations at the conference last Friday.

Environment Minister Sir Molwyn Joseph also submitted a video presentation in which he noted that the government is looking beyond plastic in its bid to rid the country of waste.