Littered with failures
Guam’s recycling policies need to be upcycled
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
All we have to do is look around. Guam’s beaches, public parks, parking lots and, probably, even our own garbage bins are cluttered with empty soda and beer cans as well as plastic and glass bottles. These ubiquitous wastes epitomize Guam’s recycling policies. “If Palau, the Marshall Islands and Saipan can do it, why does Guam fail?” asked Paul Tobiason, president of the Recycling Association of Guam.
The recycling campaign on Guam is waged with a recurring and retreating fervor. One day it’s the big thing, the next day it’s forsaken.
The Beverage Container Recycling Act, which became public law in December 2010, levies a 5-cent deposit fee on each beverage container sold on Guam. The deposit fees were supposed to be remitted to the government-managed Recycling Revolving Fund, which will be the source of rebates for beverage containers that are recycled. But due to “a lack of funds,” the law has never been implemented.
“So here we are in 2022—11 years later,” Tobiason remarked. “They had 11 years to find funds.”
But he is skeptical about the government of Guam’s ability to manage the funds for a program that it can’t even get off the ground. Charging the government with this task will only create another layer of bureaucracy.
“We do not need another GovGuam agency, director, assistant director, deputy director, supervisor, special office, special location and more vehicles,” he said.
He suggested that existing local recycling companies be designated to implement the program. “They know what they are doing,” Tobiason said.
While the beverage container rebate program remains dormant, Guam residents have the option to store their recyclables in government-issued carts that are collected twice a month. However, the Guam Solid Waste Authority has not issued new recycling carts.
In the private sector, recycling companies accept and pay for recyclable materials brought to their sites. But is it worth the time and labor?
Tobiason recently hauled scrap metals and other items to a recycling site. The “merchandise” and corresponding fees were as follows: 8kg of used beverage containers, $2.80 (three bags, 35¢/kg); 3kg of scrap aluminum, $1.20 (40¢/kg); and 4kg of brass, $6 ($1.50/kg). He received a total of $10.
“The collected aluminum cans represented a lot of time and labor,” Tobiason said. “At 35¢ per kilogram, it is almost worthless and as a consequence, so many Guam residents just do not care. It all ends up in our landfill on the roadside.”
He suggested a more pragmatic approach to incentivizing residents to recycle by offering better redemption rates.
“Oregon pays 10¢ for each can or $7.20/kg and my three bags would have been worth $21.60,” Tobiason said. “Making our trash valuable will motivate Guam residents and avoid adding volume to the landfill. Our homeless persons could also earn some income.” There are other laws on Guam that need to be revisited,
Tobiason said. “For example, junk tires. Our lawmakers think that forcing residents to pay $7 for each tire will work,” he said. “My suggestion is to put the fee up front when the tire is new and purchased. Then when it becomes ‘junk’ it will still have a value for the resident.”
On Jan. 1, 2021, Guam began implementing the “Choose to Reuse” law, which bans the use of plastic bags at groceries and restaurants. There is no currently available data that quantifies the impact—if any at all— of the plastic bag ban on the island’s efforts to reduce the volume of trash that goes to the landfill.
“The plastic ban has helped shoppers to start bringing their own bags,” Tobiason said.
But never mind the ban, he said. “Just make a required payment for each bag.”
He suggested that the bag fee collections be added to the recycling fund to subsidize the cost incurred by local companies that ship recyclables off-shore.
And that is another story. China stopped accepting garbage shipments four years ago. Given that such a situation is beyond Guam’s control, Sen. Sabina Perez proposed that Guam should localize the solution.
“We can achieve this by closing the loop using zero waste initiatives with the expansion and coordination of personal and collective environmental stewardship within the public and private sectors,” Perez said in a statement on April 5 after introducing Bill 284-36, known as “The Guam Zero Waste Act.
The bill, which was passed last week by the legislature, "updates local statutes “to catalyze the island-wide implementation of recycling and zero waste programs, drastically improving much-needed recycling and cleanup processes that are currently costly and inefficient.”
“The global recycling industry has changed significantly in the 16 years since Guam’s Recycling Revolving Fund was established,” Perez said, noting
that traditional recycling models are no longer financially sustainable.
The Guam Zero Waste Act focuses on overall waste reduction, and circular use of materials, and promotes the research of innovative solutions to help address the rapidly decreasing life of our landfill.
Drafted in close collaboration with the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, Bill 284-36 enables EPA to fund studies to research best practices for reducing and diverting different waste streams to reach 50 percent and 75 percent waste reduction by 2030 and 2040, respectively.
“Because 50 percent of the waste stream consists of biodegradable material, 50 percent reduction can be achieved by 2030 with a well-orchestrated island-wide composting plan, which can reduce the costs to our ratepayers, curb greenhouse gas emissions, and transform organic waste into compost,” Perez said,
“To achieve 75 percent reduction by 2040, rethinking production, mindful consumption, and innovative solutions to address the plastic problem, for instance, will be needed,” she added.