Since the early 1970s, Americans have been urged to reduce, reuse and recycle. Four decades later, Americans produce 1.6 pounds of waste a day more than in 1960, according to Duke University Center for Sustainability & Commerce. St. Johns County, meanwhile, does not require commercial properties to recycle, and does not provide a reasonable avenue for them to do so even if they wanted to.
That’s where AnJ Recycling Service comes in. A private company, AnJ fills the gaps publicly contracted waste giants Republic Services and Advanced Disposal leave behind.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, owner Ryan Spinella visits commercial properties — both businesses and commercially zoned condos and apartment complexes — around St. Johns County to collect recyclable items from residents and owners who have reached out to him.
“It was really the only option,” says Beth Lambert, executive director of Limelight Theatre in St. Augustine.
Lambert looked into recycling with the city when Limelight opened at that location in 2001, but even though she has neighbors zoned residential from whom the city’s contracted service picked up, she and other business owners on her street couldn’t get their recycling collected. A truck would stop at residential properties on either side of her business, picking up full recycling bins, but skip hers, she says.
About three years ago, tired of the large amounts of paper and food and beverage packaging she could have recycled but was throwing away, Lambert turned to AnJ Recycling Service.
“AnJ works great,” she says. “The biggest thing is, their price point is good. They are very dependable, they pick up the same day every week, every time. They don’t leave a mess.”
For retail plant nursery Southern Horticulture, in unincorporated St. Johns County on Anastasia Island, owner Bryanne Hamilton would have been stuck between her business principles and her business’ efficiency without AnJ Recycling.
The county provider in that area, Advanced Disposal, offers weekly pick-up for an eight-cubic-yard dumpster for $80 a month, much more than AnJ charges, Hamilton says. Plus, Lambert would have to find room on Southern Horticulture’s property for the dumpster, which isn’t realistic, she says.
Their only other alternative is to haul recycling to the transfer station themselves, something any business would consider a major inconvenience, even if, like Southern Horticulture, it’s a “major part of the way we do business,” Hamilton says.
“We don’t have time to take it ourselves,” Hamilton says.
Spinella capitalizes on the big companies’ model of forcing businesses to conform to their requirements.
“With me, it’s ‘What do you need?’ Not: ‘This is the way it works, deal with it,’” he says. “I’ll come give you an audit and set up a plan that fits you. We’ll design a fee based on that plan. I don’t see myself as competing with Republic and Advanced Disposal, I’m offering a completely different service.”
According to Spinella, it’s the only service of its kind in the country, since most recycling companies are either in the business of selling commodities or are contracted directly by county or city governments.
At first, the business, founded in 2008 by Adam Morley, who’s running for state office in 2016, had sorting facilities and was selling recyclables as commodities, similar to a metals scrap yard, but Morley eventually found that model wasn’t profitable unless he was hauling thousands and thousands of tons of recycling.
Now, Spinella spends two days a week collecting recycling from more than 100 businesses and residents, dropping the majority off at Nine Mile Road Landfill, where Republic Services transports all recycling from St. Johns County to its $13 million facility in Jacksonville.
No one makes money from collecting and sorting recycling, Spinella says, especially since most companies went to single stream recycling, which allows residents to put all recyclables in one container.
But recyclables have to be sorted somewhere. So providing the ease of one container means a lot more work on the back end, and more employees for Republic.
Plus, much of the value of recyclables is lost when they all get mixed together. Only 40 to 60 percent of recycled paper is recoverable in this system, partly because glass inevitably breaks between the curb, the truck and the sorting facility, contaminating other recyclables.
Spinella combats that by sorting at the source, separating each type of recyclable into his segmented trailer as he picks it up. He takes uncontaminated paper and metal to appropriate single-type recyclers before dumping the rest in with the larger companies’ single stream pile.
Even with these improvements, Spinella says he is hesitant to tout the impact his company is making. While it is important to keep as much out of the landfills as possible, with all the trucks driving around and the lost value from single stream recycling, the impact of recycling is minimal, he says.
“What we’re doing as a society to recycle is the least we can do. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycle is the last one for a reason. We’re doing it backwards. We should reduce what we use, then we should reuse everything and, finally, given no other option, we should recycle. We’re missing the first two steps in this culture.”