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ASPA recycling program only temporarily closed

The popular recycling program administered by the American Samoa Power Authority is temporarily on hold, but not necessarily discontinued. According to ASPA CEO Utu Abe Malae, the program will continue, but the semi-autonomous agency is reviewing how the program is being carried out and "how to make it better."

ASPA customer service manager Ryan Tuato'o explained that the program is temporarily closed as ASPA workers try to sift through the thousands of recyclables already turned in by local residents. He said it is tough trying to sort through the items, as everything has to be sorted by type, crushed to size, bundled up into cubes, and packed into a container before its shipped off to New Zealand.

"We are trying to get these items off to our vendors and that is why the program is temporarily closed," Tuato'o said, adding that the closure may be for a couple of weeks and may extend to a couple of months, depending on how fast they can get things sorted out and shipped off.

The recycling program has been active in the territory since last summer, when it was called the Recycling For Food Initiative. It was made to coincide with the Farmer's Market and basically encouraged local residents to turn in their recyclables to ASPA in exchange for coupons to purchase fresh produce from local farmers. The farmers would then submit their coupons to ASPA to receive credit on their utility bills.

The program became so popular that ASPA extended the program to include non-farmers to use the credit vouchers to pay down their electricity bills.

As the program progressed, people have been known to start lining up outside the ASPA Tafuna compound 3-4 hours before ASPA doors are open for regular business hours. This past week, hundreds of cars were parked bumper to bumper, with the line extending all the way down towards the Fagaima area. Some people even complained that because they work during the day, they don't have the time and opportunity to take their recyclables in and wondered if the program would be extended to include nighttime or even weekend hours.

Utu replied that the program hours have been extended to include Saturdays, “so that all customers could be accommodated.” He explained that ASPA plans to secure two other locations for recycling — one on the west side and one on the eastern end of the island, in addition to the Tafuna locationThe ASPA CEO said, "We have no plans to discontinue the program… as we are seeing that the island is much cleaner." He added, "This recycling program appears to be working better than other efforts, and we are reviewing our operations at the moment and trying to eliminate the backlog of recyclables. Once they are packed off in containers to New Zealand, then we will restart."

When asked about whether or not ASPA is making a profit off the program, Tuato'o said their goal is not to make a profit but they hope to at least break even. He said that the program itself is a great way for ASPA to help people pay down their utility bills, and in turn, motivates people to clean up their surroundings and promote cleanliness. "We are not in it to make money," he said.

Utu responded to the same question by saying, "We can afford the program to operate with a small loss because there are benefits of extending the life of the sanitary landfill, and cleaning up and protecting the environment, including marine life."

According to Tuato'o, ASPA is trying to make its money back, equal to the value of the coupons already issued to local residents, by sending off the recyclables they already have at the Tafuna compound as soon as possible, hence the temporary closure of the program. He said about 99% of the items are yet to be sorted, and that is why he is urging local residents to help them out by making sure all metal cans are clean, and caps for plastic bottles are removed from the bottles. "This saves us time and helps make the process faster," he said.

"Once everything is sorted and packed, ASPA funds can be replenished and based on our calculations, we should be able to break even."

Tuato'o explained that when the program was first launched, they literally had to beg people to come in and bring their recyclables. "We went from serving 200-300 people to about 800-900 people a day," he reported. "This means the program is a huge success, and shows us that people are trying to find a means to sustain and get by. This is ASPA's way of contributing to that."

OF IMPORTANCE: ASPA reminds its customers that the credit voucher coupons cannot be exchanged for cash but can be only applied to the oldest amount on a person's utility bill, whether it is water, solid waste, or electricity.

When asked why the recyclables are sent to New Zealand instead of the United States, Tuato'o explained that the program went through a competitive bid process and the New-Zealand based company they are dealing with offered the highest value in exchange for recyclables. For example, companies from the US were only offering about .38-cents for a pound of aluminum while the New Zealand firm more than doubled that, offering .79-cents per pound of aluminum. In addition, the transit time to New Zealand was faster, and the shipping charges were much less than having to ship to the US.

Right now, ASPA is only accepting plastics, aluminum, scrap metal, and tin cans. He said the acceptable items are based on the demand from their vendors. But some people don't understand and have started complaining, saying that others are getting more credit than them for lesser items.

Tuato'o explained that there are different values for different things. For example, clear plastic bottles like those used for water and sports drinks have a higher value than non-clear plastic bottles like the ones used for laundry detergents and bleach.

In addition, a trash bag full of soda cans that are not crushed is valued less than a trash bag full of crushed soda cans, as the value of the bag depends on the weight of the cans, not the quantity.

Knowing the value of your plastic bottles can be determined by looking at the bottom of the bottle, which features numbers from 1 to 7. The higher the number, the higher the value.

Tuato'o said they are accepting scrap metal items like car parts and roofing tins, and these items move faster than others, meaning they are crushed and sent off rather quickly. Tin cans like the ones corned beef and sardines come in are also accepted, although they need to be clean.

He explained that they do accept glass bottles but because the demand from their vendors for such items is not high, it is not worth it to ship it out. Instead, ASPA keeps the glass bottles, crushes them, and uses them (in addition to cinders) as topsoil to cover the trash at the Futiga landfill. In addition to reusing the glass bottles to benefit us locally, ASPA also crushes old glass bottles and offers them to interested locals who want to use them as decorations for their homes and floors.