Today, Stan is hoping to turn another modest enterprise into a game-changing model. In the 1996 a local park superintendent started a recycling program on the island. Maho Bay lent its support by donating a glass crusher to the effort. Ten years ago, the machine was returned to them when the superintendent transferred off the island.
“Now we had this big glass crusher,” Stan remembers. “Someone suggested craft artists could melt the glass and make stuff.” In typical go-to-it fashion, Maho Bay built a small glass studio and started making modest molded glass items, such as ashtrays, to sell to their guests. Then a few visiting glass blowers taught them some new tricks, and their glass art became more complex. Slowly and surely, Maho Bay built the Trash to Treasure program. Eight staff members and a constant rotation of visiting artists transform the resort’s glass and aluminum waste into profitable works of art.
In addition to its creative recycling, the studio is also energy efficient. The glass furnace runs at 2300 degree Fahrenheit. Pipes run by the furnace to use the excess heat to warm Maho’s water. Some of the furnace heat is also diverted into the studio’s drying rooms. Their ceramic kiln is fueled with wood from old pallets. “Everything comes to the island on pallets,” Stan explains, “and ends up in the dump.” Now they use the constant supply of pallet wood to fire their ceramic artworks.
The studio sold $250,000 in recycled art last year, but Stan isn’t content with just a sustainable, additional revenue stream for his resort. No. Stan wants to take the Trash to Treasure model to the world.
He’s investigating opening a second studio at St. Thomas’s Havensight Mall, a popular cruise ship destination. He’d like to use trash generated by neighboring hotels and turn it into art for cruise guests to buy during their on-land excursions. Eventually, he hopes to attract business from the cruise lines itself. “Can you imagine the amount of waste a ship carrying two to three thousand passengers makes?” Other people see empty Heineken bottles; Stan sees a really pretty color of green, perfect for attractive glass sculptures.
And it doesn’t just have to stop with art, he says. Maho Bay currently sells its excess crushed glass waste to the local construction industry to use for backfill. “Gravel on the island is a couple hundred dollars a cubic yard,” Stan says. “So is sand. Glass can be reduced to sand. We’re at the very beginning of a path that has a lot more complex ramifications than simply making art.”
“I really believe this is for the resort industry a whole new way to address waste,” Stan says. “The travel industry is the most consumptive industry in the world besides the military!”
Stan’s next step is to remake Maho Bay’s low-key, middle-income program to fit a luxury hotel’s needs. He’s in talks with Starwood, which owns the swanky W Hotels, Le Méridien, and the Luxury Collection chains. He also is plotting with Mike Freed, Big Sur’s Post Ranch Inn founder, who is opening a new eco-luxe destination, Cavallo Point at the Golden Gate in San Francisco, this June. Stan would like to start a Trash to Treasure program at the brand-new eco-lodge. Although the price range for pieces at Maho Bay start at $5 for sun catchers and top out at $200 for the really spectacular sculptures, Stan believes there’s a lot of room at the top, pointing to similar Murano glass artworks sold for $3500 a piece.
The financial potential is fabulous, but what Stan really gets excited about is the opportunity for economic development. On St. John, the construction boom has kept unemployment low, but Stan projects a Trash to Treasure program could help offer much-needed jobs in more economically depressed areas. Once molds have been made, employees without previous art skills could make some of the pieces, as well as create numerous fabric projects made from a resort’s old linens. “I’d really love to do one somewhere like the Dominican Republic or Dominica,” he says.
“I’m 79 years old already, and I’m really sort of impatient to get something going!” Stan says. To keep up with this fast-moving septuagenarian, sign up for Maho Bay’s e-mail newsletter. He's sure to have an interesting future.
Photos from www.maho.org.