It's not easy to find people to recycle stray parts, especially in Central America. Even the heavy aluminum of an abandoned drug plane that's sat empty for years—except for the stories it holds—doesn't garner much money for scrappers and recyclers. And without an organization collecting it, most old parts end up in the ever-growing landfill. Or worse, the ocean.
For William, who has lived on the Bay Island of Utila since he was 17, collecting and recycling the metals from bikes, air conditioners, refrigerators, stoves, engines, chairs, abandoned planes, and everything in-between has become a sort of a one-man job. Over the last four months, he's collected enough scrap metal and old parts to fill up his yard and another space nearby. But he's holding on to all of it until the price of metals goes back up again and he can sell it to a recycler on the mainland of Honduras.
Right now, an iron bar that's used as protection over windows might fetch two lempiras. Or in American currency, about five cents. A pound of tin brings in about $5, down 50 cents from last year. And a pound of aluminum nets only about 50 cents.
When we think about ocean debris it's easy to imagine the plastics. More than 80 percent of the trash in the world's oceans is plastic. Metals are the second-most common form of trash in the ocean, mostly in the form of aluminum, steel, or tin cans. The trash comes from land-based (dumping, landfills washing it into rivers/oceans) and ocean-based sources, such as cargo ships.
Not everyone is always behind William's effort to collect and recycle old junk. Some people worry that collecting metals and recyclable parts will encourage thieves to steal and sell to William, who will sell to a higher price at the mainland. But William says he's careful that all of his sellers aren't stealing metals for money. "I don't buy from any crackhead no more," he says. "You get to know who they are, you see them. I don't buy from them. Only people and businesses and construction workers that don't steal the parts. I try to make sure it's good."
That's the fear: That when you create a real market for the recyclables, it opens up theft of materials, especially copper. But for William, it's become a good way to make extra money, and it keeps the junk from being dumped into the landfill or the sea. William spent most of his life working on cargo ships, stacking up all of the materials like cases of soda just so. "I was good at stacking stuff," he says. Now that he is older, 55, he makes his living collecting old junk, giving out flyers for dive shops, and cooking Saturday "island dinner" on the main street.
"I have two daughters, and I want them to go to good schools," William says. The public school on the island ends at 9th grade. He'd like to see them go to college.
The junk William has collected over the last few months is rusting under the sun. Refrigerators. Bar stools. Propane drums. Oven racks. There are enough old parts to fill up part of a cargo ship, but they won't fetch enough money to make the trip worthwhile for anyone. But William remains hopeful things will turn around. "I think soon I will be able to find money for it."