Local entrepreneur goes 3-D with recycled plastic printing

Douglas ‘JR’ Cameron shows off a plastic bowtie he made from recycled plastic. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

A local tavern owner envisions a future where recycling no longer involves separating various plastics and hauling them to dedicated dumpsters in the corner of a supermarket parking lot. Instead, Douglas “JR” Cameron, thinks repurposing plastic can happen right in your home, and he thinks Cayman can lead the way.

“Recycling isn’t just for big corporations,” said Mr. Cameron, 38. “Anyone can do it.”

To that end, he has turned the front end of one of the three rooms that comprise the Lodge – formerly Whiskey Mist – into a recycling and manufacturing station. He is shredding used plastic, running it through an extruder that produces a filament, not unlike the line you might use in a weed wacker. That filament can then be fed into a 3-D printer to create just about anything. He can also take the shaved material and, using baking molds, create flat sheets or circles of plastic.

Mr. Cameron picks up two rectangular slabs of open mesh plastic he made in an oven.

“I’m going to use these as menu covers,” he says.

He also plans to make serving trays, dominos, coasters and, eventually, tableware for use in his establishment.

The endeavor began when he started making sunglasses several years ago.

A native of Canada’s Scugog Island, near Toronto, Mr. Cameron first came to Cayman in 2002 and worked in food and beverage sales. He opened District 6, a nightclub, with a partner and ran it from 2006 to 2008, when he lost everything in a bad business arrangement. Two years later, after working as a manager for Cayman’s skate park, he moved to Florida.

There, he got involved in commercial real estate and met Kiristen Cousins. The couple would later marry, but not before starting a business together.

Peripheral Life and Style is an apparel company that arranges for 50 percent of its sales to go to organizations or individuals with projects or goals that align with the company’s philosophy. The first thing it produced was sunglasses that were manufactured in Taiwan.

“From the first box of product that arrived from Asia, my business partner and I were sick to our stomachs,” Mr. Cameron said. “Plastic products, packed in plastic, surrounded by Styrofoam. We said, ‘We’ve got a major problem.’”

He began looking into ways of manufacturing the sunglasses himself.

“I realized the same equipment I could make sunglasses with, I could recycle with,” he said.

The idea of recycling “was a more positive project for my community.” In the meantime, he had moved back to Grand Cayman. He worked for Cayman Islands Brewery for five years before opening the Lodge in the Strand.

His nights are dominated by bartending and running the establishment with his partner, Paul Lankford. During the day he works on experimenting with his new equipment.

“We created a multi-use space that, by night, makes revenue and by day becomes a productive social center,” he said. “This is an experimental, creative workshop.”

“I believe plastic is here forever,” he said. “But the (non-biodegradable) formula for plastic doesn’t have to be here forever. Now they’ve come up with all these alternate formulas.”

He’s particularly excited about polylactic acid compounds, which are made from non-petroleum, organic bases such as corn, cassava root and sugar cane. Some Cayman supermarkets have recently shifted to the biodegradable material for their plastic containers and grocery bags.

“It’s still bad, but it’s the best plastic,” Mr. Cameron said. “It doesn’t last for a million years and it doesn’t interrupt the endocrine system, at least not that we know of.”

Mr. Cameron envisions such things as distributing free reusable containers to Cayman residents to replace single-use containers such as those used at supermarket salad bars. He also wants to develop a small stove with which individuals could recycle plastic in their homes, turning used material into keychains or costume jewelry that could be sold. He sees that later as a potential small business model that could benefit poor communities in places such as the Dominican Republic or Haiti.

But first, there’s the matter of helping to save Cayman from its own plastics problem. An increased awareness of how much plastic is generated by the islands’ consumers and how much washes up on the beaches has led to the formation of such groups as Plastic Free Cayman. But cleaning up and shipping recyclable plastic off the island is only one solution, he said. Another is to repurpose it here. And with the affordability of such things as 3-D printers, he believes Cayman is in a perfect position to set an example.

“Cayman,” he said, “should be a leader in recycling.”

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