The Senate is considering three bills proposed by Gov. Kenneth Mapp: to ban plastic grocery bags; to give deposits on cans and bottles; and to institute a comprehensive recycling and composting system in the territory.
All three would help extend the lives of the territory’s landfills, improve the environment and have a number of positive benefits, according to testimony from the V.I. Waste Management Authority, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups. But their testimony also suggests the bag ban and bottle deposit may be fairly simple and inexpensive to implement, while a comprehensive recycling and composting program will cost "millions."
Regional EPA administrator Judith Enck said all three bills were important steps. A container deposit law "is a really smart thing to do" because "it cuts greatly down on littering. … People bend over and they pick it up for that nickel," she said.
All three measures have "the potential to cut the waste stream in half," she said.
Acting VIWMA Director Steve Aubain said the authority supports all three proposals, with some qualifications on the details, saying "the bills will work together to assist the authority in its overall goal to reduces the volume of material going to the landfill," and that it would help the environment.
He emphasized that there would need to be a great deal of public education, and that VIWMA would need resources to carry out its part of the mandates.
The recycling program, in particular, would need to charge collection and tipping fees to cover the costs of new convenience centers, possibly curbside bins and systems for sorting the materials and processing them in the territory or shipping them elsewhere.
Of recycling, Aubain said, "The long-term success of this particular program is hinged on the authority having the resources to close the existing system." All the existing garbage bins would have to be closed and replaced with manned convenience centers where people ensure materials are sorted properly. There would have to be fees to dispose of everything, Aubain said.
"It is not likely the program will be entirely self-sustaining" and "higher costs will have to be recovered from the authority’s customer base," Aubain said, adding that some sort of new tipping fee or a residential collection fee would have to be implemented.
"Although operating costs may increase, it should be noted this program will have several achievements, including extending the useful life of the landfills and the reuse of resources that hold immense financial value to the territory," he said.
When Sen. Marvin Blyden asked how much it would cost, Aubain answered, "In terms of staffing and equipment, it is definitely in the millions." He said he would have more detailed numbers for the June 20 hearing.
Aubain and other VIWMA officials urged senators to go ahead and approve the bills, however, saying the authority could set up rules and regulations and implement it in phases, as funding methods such as new fees are approved.
Sen. Nereida Rivera O’Reilly asked what would be the net for the public to return cans?
DPNR Commissioner Dawn Henry said, “For every container, whatever the value is that will be collected balances out because the funds are absorbed for potential lost, especially since not every container will be redeemable. As of right now the approximate net is unknown.”
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd asked, “If the bill passes, what is the first step that the Waste Management Authority will take?”
Aubain said, “The first step is to educate the public and then hold a meeting with stake holders and make sure that they understand the program. Lastly, VIWMA will set up the rules and regulations for the recycling program."
Blyden said he thought the educational process should start with students.
"It is important for us to communicate and continue to have public discussions. We must have all parties involved in both the public and private sectors in order for this program to work," Blyden said.
"It is also critical that we have the funding and the necessary resources to complete this objective,” he continued.
No votes were taken during the information-gathering hearing. Present were Blyden, Rivera-O’Reilly, Liburd, Sens. Jean Forde, Kenneth Gittens, Clifford Graham and Neville James. No members were absent.