Residential recycling bins are overflowing on Guam with pickup essentially at a standstill since the governor’s GovGuam shutdown went into effect.
And recycling pickup is actually a coronavirus health and safety issue.
Larry Gast, Guam Solid Waste Authority general manager, said: “In Guam, we don’t have automated recycling. Everything is done by hand. And if you think about it, every water bottle, every soda can, everything that’s recycled, has possibly had someone’s mouth on it. And, that’s not a very sanitary place to put workers in.”
And that’s the main reason recycling isn’t currently being picked up, according to Gast.
The product sorting is contracted out, Gast says, and with a shortage of protective gear like gloves and masks, the contractor doesn’t have enough PPEs for their staff to do the work safely.
Garbage, on the other hand, isn’t a COVID-19 risk since staff don’t really interact with the waste.
“With the garbage, we have semi-automatic loading. They just roll the cart to the back of the truck. The cart tips up, dumps into the truck and then goes back. Garbage is a necessity to pick up. If you don’t get it out, you’ve got rats, you get flies, you get everything else. Recycling doesn’t have that same issue,” Gast pointed out.
Gast also tells PNC that the economics of recycling just aren’t adding up right now, which is an added layer to their decision…
“The end-markets for recycling right now are not doing real well. Oil has gotten so low per barrel, that it’s gotten cheaper to make new plastic bottles than it is to recycle the plastics into bottles. And right now, with Asia and the entire world worried about the COVID-19 virus, nobody wants recycling. I’m paying close to $1000 a ton to ship plastics off-island; it costs me $172 a ton to bury it at the landfill,” Gast said.
While the transfer stations have been open for at least part of the shutdown, GSWA is running out of storage space.
“As long as I’ve got space…we’re accepting the recycling at the drop-off centers. If we run out of space, you may only be able to drop aluminum cans, or metal cans or cardboard or something independently,” Gast said.
Nonetheless, Gast says the contractors are working to get all the proper protective gear so they can resume recycling sorting.
He’s hoping to have curbside recycling pickup back and running over the next week or two.
But as with everything else with coronavirus, it’s a moving target.