During a town hall meeting on Thursday evening, members of the community expressed concern over the territory’s mounting trash issues and optimism for new recycling legislation that, if approved, could significantly improve the situation.
With the territory’s plastic bag ban set to go into effect on April 1, officials from the V.I. Waste Management Authority, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and Island Green Living Association shared more details on pending recycling initiatives and fielded questions from community members.
Sen. Marvin Blyden, chairman of the Housing, Public Works, Waste Management and Planning Committee, organized the public meeting that drew about 30 people to the Charles W. Turnbull Library on St. Thomas.
The meeting discussed the plastic bag ban and two pending pieces of recycling legislation. When the bag ban goes into effect, businesses will no longer be able to give customers plastic bags in checkout lines.
The Virgin Islands Source Separation Act will, if passed, manage how trash is collected and separated in an effort to reduce the amount of waste that is put into the territory’s two landfills. The other piece of legislation would establish a comprehensive recycling and composting program to support waste reduction.
Harith Wickrema, president of IGLA and chairman of Waste Management’s board, told attendees that some supermarket owners in the territory are resisting the plastic bag ban and are advocating for use of so-called biodegradable plastic bags.
According to Wickrema and other environmentally-minded attendees, biodegradable plastic bags still break down into microbeads that harm wildlife. For that reason, Wickrema urged the public to not be fooled by false claims and to boycott businesses that are resisting the ban.
An attendee asked which businesses are putting up a fight, but Blyden said it wouldn’t be fair to name them. He explained that they would likely be picketing soon, so the public can learn which ones aren’t getting on board that way.
Education is a key component to getting the public to recycle and reduce littering, Wickrema said. That’s why IGLA is working to make sustainability education mandatory in every grade at local schools. Parents listen to their children he said, explaining that the youth makes good salespeople.
Both Wickrema and Dawn Henry, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, said Gov. Kenneth Mapp and members of the Legislature have been very supportive of the pending bills.
Henry, who has been highly involved in drafting the new legislation, said that senate members have listened to the community and business owners to revise the original bills. She said the legislation would make the island cleaner and greener.
Roger Merritt, executive director of Waste Management, said there’s a lot of work to be done but that the territory has an opportunity to really improve its trash issues. Recycling and compositing will also extend the lives of the quickly-filling landfills, he said.
Going forward the Department of Tourism will use compostable cups for rum samples it serves to tourists arriving at the airport.
Wickrema said Waste Management plans to do wide-scale commercial composting on all three islands in the future. Green waste is currently composted on St. Croix by the Sanitas Partners, the contractor that runs St. Croix’s waste transfer station.
Blyden says he is pushing for cameras to be installed at all of the territory’s bin sites to deter illegal dumping of big appliances and other nuisance items. He said there’s a significant need for more enforcement.
“St Thomas is one of the dirtiest islands I’ve ever seen,” said Blyden. He added that he pays attention to trash issues when visiting other Caribbean islands.
An attendee said that many of the beaches that locals frequent in the territory don’t have adequate garbage cans, which leads to more littering. Another said that trash and recycling centers should be sited in accessible places for people who don’t have cars.
One of the next convenience centers will be built in Smith Bay on land donated from Margaritaville Vacation Club on St. Thomas.
Why doesn’t the VI source tell us about these Town Hall meetings BEFORE they occur, so we can attend them?
On St. Croix, the East End dump site is completely unstaffed and unmonitored. It is an eyesore and a disgrace. Some people don’t even bother to throw their trash into the dumpsters, and just throw it on the ground. Others dump appliances on the ground, or fill the dumpsters with commercial landscape waste. The dumpsters all all overflowing on a regular basis, except for immediately after they are emptied. The workers who empty them do a heroic effort to clean up the grounds, but the dumpsters just aren’t emptied frequently enough to keep up. I’ve also seen trucks FULL of trash bags from local restaurants unload at the site. Shouldn’t they be required to have commercial trash pickup?
I am willing to bet that NONE of the proposed recycling measures will include Styrofoam. It isn’t economically practical to recycle Styrofoam, yet it is one of the worst litter problems. Plastic bags are bad enough, especially when they blow into the water. But plastic water, pop and milk bottles, and Styrofoam food containers are the real environmental disaster!
The effectiveness of any recycling or comprehensive waste management plan is going to come down to enforcement – something which is not a strong suit in the USVI. Even then, how do you enforce an anti-littering policy on someone who just throws their Styrofoam lunch container on the ground when finished?
It seems to me that it would be much better for the restaurants and other food vending places should not use styrofoam at all for take out or take home leftovers….the ones that are similar to cardboard are much more recyclable!