Op-Ed: 1,000 Cleanups Won’t Deter the Littering Population in the USVI

A dozen or more Crucians gather to collect trash on St. Croix this spring. (File photo by Linda Morland)
A dozen or more Crucians gather to collect trash on St. Croix this spring. (File photo by Linda Morland)

For three years, I’ve been amazed and inspired by the number of residents leading cleanups on St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and even the oft forgotten historic district of Hassel Island. I was extremely happy to see the Department of Tourism encouraging residents to assist in collecting trash throughout the territory.

In high school, I worked in the Clean and Preen program that VIWMA held at the time. Each summer for three years, classmates and myself collected huge amounts of trash on the roadside. We were often disheartened to see some of the areas we had completely transformed filled with litter in just under a week.

At the time, I blamed people for being lazy and nasty because they chose to throw their trash out of their car window.

My classmates and I even witnessed instances where people would throw trash bags filled with waste along the Donoe Bypass and the connecting Donoe Road above the Home Depot on St. Thomas. As the years passed, I began gaining sympathy for people that littered without considering the broader consequences.

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Yes, I said sympathy.

When I moved back home from North Carolina in late 2015, I made the trip with my car. A car that I specifically bought because I knew limited public transportation would make having my own set of wheels a necessity. That same year, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority announced that the Smith Bay bin site servicing residents in the area would be closed to accommodate the construction of the Margaritaville Vacation Club.

Before that, another trash bin had been recently shuttered near the bottom of Cassi Hill leading into Smith Bay. For weeks, residents continued to throw trash on the roadside where the bins were previously located. This continued until signs and a physical barrier were placed at the site and enforcement was ramped up.

When I moved into my apartment in 2016, there weren’t any trash collection services in my area, which meant the closest trash bins near me were located in the Tutu High Rise apartments, which had signs warning that the trash bins were only for tenants and violators would be fined if caught. That was also the closest location for Smith Bay residents, who lost their last trash collection site in 2015. I once lived near an elderly lady who lived alone and relied on her son to remove her trash every few days on St. Thomas. My roommate would also help on some days. She had a car but only drove it to church on Sundays and to check her mailbox if she was expecting mail.

Like many, I found it difficult to find a nearby trash bin that was open to the public. I lived near Cassi Hill at the time and the closest trash bins to me were the bins on Raphune Hill, trash bins in the Bovoni area and the cleanest trash receptacle located right outside the Mahogany Run Golf Course and condominiums.

Since 2015, I’ve had three apartments on St. Thomas. And each of those apartments required me to travel with my household trash to remote bin sites several times a week. In each of those places, which were home to hundreds of residents without cars or access to reliable transportation, there was a trash epidemic that plagued the roadside.

Localities such as Annas Retreat, Wintberg, Bordeaux and even downtown Charlotte Amalie experience similar problems.

For littering to stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, every resident would need unimpeded access to trash collection services and a government committed to locating funds and federal programs to maintain each island’s specific waste needs.

When I first moved back home, my car was brand new and I wasn’t too worried about it giving me issues for a few years. With my apartment wedged between Smith Bay and Annas Retreat, I noticed my neighbors and others living in the area without cars walking to work with trash bags in their hands.

Many walked to the safari route and would board with a bag of trash – I was never sure where the bag’s final destination would be. I would also see people who lived in more remote areas, especially on hilltops, heading down the road on foot with trash bags. The bags were usually tiny but some residents walked with large bags and even empty boxes.

I still see it today. Flashing back to my time working for Clean and Preen, it made sense that my classmates found trash bags in remote areas. People without cars, and limited or zero access to trash collections services also needed a place to put their trash – and you can guess where it usually ended up.

I’m afraid that even if we facilitated 1,000 cleanups throughout the territory over the next five years, it won’t make a dent in curbing littering if trash collection initiatives aren’t expanded to meet the growing demand. I believe residents intimately know that littering negatively impacts the environment. However, I don’t believe that residents are aware of how harmful microplastics can be to local fish, birds, coral reefs and trees. Re-educating the public about the consequences of littering and ways to curb it are a great start.

Reshaping how we treat our environment and the way we dispose of waste on our small islands can improve public health and dramatically improve the territory’s tourism product as more American tourists seek out eco-friendly destinations.

I don’t have a solution for the territory’s waste crisis, nor am I criticizing those responsible for keeping our islands clean. What I do have is sympathy for the individuals who have limited access to collection sites and often make the lax choice of abandoning their trash on our roadsides.

Reshaping how we criticize and approach people who litter can help us understand how the territory’s waste crisis that has existed for more than 30 years can be improved.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. I call baloney. Not having trash collection sites is a problem, yes. But that does not explain or justify throwing trash along the roads or anywhere else.

    Regrettably, I think it is an apathy and cultural issue. When people throw trash out of their car window, it it yet another sign of disregard or disrespect for the environment for other people. It basically says, “I don’t care”. When you throw the remains of your styrofoam lunch “to go” lunch container out the car window, or off the back of the brush cutting trailer that you are riding in, it says, “I don’t care”. If you throw the remains of your lunch container on the street as you are walking downtown Christiansted, 10 yards from a trash barrel, it says “I don’t care”.

    Another source of litter is trash haulers who had been servicing some of the dump sites, inadequately covering the truck beds to keep loose trash from blowing out as the drive along the roads. That seems to have gotten better when WMA took over servicing at least one collection site.

    I doubt a police officer in the Territory has ever cited someone for littering. I detest littering, and I think those caught doing it should be sentenced to picking up litter along the roadways. Kids need to learn at home, by their parents setting a good example, and adults who have learned need to suffer the humiliation of wearing a bright orange vest while picking up litter, with “Department of Corrections Litter Enforcement” printed on the back.

    • As long as we allow tourism and the mainland’s way of life to be the deciding factor of our way of life down here (disposable, plastic nonsense), we will have these problems. You can throw the trash in the landfill, in a garbage can, etc., but that garbage is still on these islands. Just because it makes you feel better to have it “out of sight, out of mind,” doesn’t mean the garbage isn’t there! We are reaping what we sow, which is garbage all over this planet, because we have chosen to copy the mainland and live unsustainable and wasteful lives instead of the way these islands were before that nonsense was introduced!

  2. For littering to stop, we must quit creating the trash. We have allowed our tourism industry and the fact we follow the mainland’s way of life to make our islands nothing but islands of disposable waste. We did it to appease folks (tourists) even though it was not the natural way of life on these islands. Don’t blame the litterbugs, because as long as we create all the garbage by living disposable, plastic filled lives, that litter still goes on these islands whether it be in a landfill, a garbage can, etc. We should learn from Costa Rica, a country that does not allow any plastic. From my OVERstanding, you can’t even get off an airplane in Costa Rica with a plastic bottle. The only way to fix this problem is QUIT CREATING THE GARBAGE AND QUIT LIVING DISPOSABLE LIVES!

    • I disagree with your assertion that the tourism industry is to blame for the litter along our roadsides in our parks and on our beaches. I have never seen a tourist throw garbage out of a car window. Not one time. Most tourists take their garbage with them when they leave parks and beaches or place them in receptacles. Tourists by and large show FAR more respect for the USVI than our locals. Sad, but true. Yes, I do blame litterbugs and your idea that plastic and styrofoam is a tourist construct is silly, imo. Using the tourism industry as an excuse for mostly locals trashing our islands is part of the problem — blame someone/something else! I do agree with you that the USVI needs to take a greener approach to packaging, but this is a separate issue. The USVI need an effective recycling and waste management program NOW. Locals need to take responsibility for the messes they make!

      • Build it and they will come! Yes, had we not let tourism become more important than common sense, we would not have all the disposable items on these islands. Just like we are now covered in cell phone towers, because the tourists demanded their distractions and addictions on these islands or they won’t come. Now the islands’ children suffer with the addiction and zombie creating technology! These islands weren’t that way, and were very organic before America came along with its unsustainable, wasteful way of life, and they have passed that nonsense on to these islands. We are merely reaping what the developed world is sowing all over this planet, which is garbage and unsustainability. And I guess HOVENSA and the rum factories haven’t done anything to destroy these islands either, right?

      • Also, no weapons are manufactured down here, but our islands are full of them, because America has made sure to spread them far and wide all over this planet. So much so that their own children (soldiers) are then killed with those same weapons by their enemy that got them from America.

  3. You are delusional. Just your references to soldiers and enemy show it. You are big at rhetoric, but short on rationality. Almost NOTHING is “manufactured down here”. Yet, we have cars, food, TVs, shoes, clothing, windows, doors, light bulbs. As the other poster commented, you are stuck on blaming your own condition on others. Who do you think are importing weapons? Who is importing drugs? Even our own former director of enforcement for DPNR was caught transporting cocaine! I am reminded of a conversation with another several years ago at a bar on the north shore. He commented that the U.S. is “sucking huge amounts of money out of the V. I.”. That was laughable. The V.I. is a massive welfare state – a bottomless pit into which the U.S. pours hundreds of millions of dollars. To what ends? Take responsibility for yourself for a change, and stop blaming someone else for your situation, and making excuses for littering and crime. No one forces someone else to throw trash on the ground, or to commit a crime.

    • I have a great situation, but I am an observer of the truth. America is plaguing the world with its unsustainable, greedy and wasteful way of life. Plaguing the world one war and one military base at a time. You are just too addicted to all the fluff it all brings to even begin to see the truth.

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