Waste Management is a critical issue that needs to be urgently addressed in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to ensure the protection of residents and visitors alike, and to preserve the beautiful and diverse natural environment found here.
Green VI, a local not-for-profit organization, is working towards a greener, cleaner, and healthier BVI. Their projects focus around the themes of waste, energy, water and education.
Green VI has initiated the following projects around the waste theme namely:
• A glass studio as a demonstration project to prove that waste can become a resource
• Working with partners to initiate a voluntary plastic bag ban
• Working with the BVI government and local recyclers to create a viable recycling system
• Establish pilot composting projects
• A trash to treasure program for schools
• Continuous education and awareness
Glass waste is problematic in the BVI; it is estimated that 3.8 million bottles were imported into Tortola in 1996, resulting in the 1700 tons of glass received at the incinerator. Each year, the incinerator is shut down for approximately twenty days during which time the Department of Waste Staff manually chip off glass which has melted onto the incinerator walls. For the duration of time that the incinerator is shut down, incoming waste is stored or burned, resulting in further health hazards such as toxic smoke, flies, and vermin.
Although not designed to deal with all of Tortola’s glass waste, Green VI’s Glass Studio demonstrates the usefulness of old bottles. Between 200 – 400lb of glass waste collected at the restaurants in Cane Garden Bay, is melted each week in the furnace. Green VI’s team of glassblowers turns the melted glass into decorative bowls, glasses, ornaments and souvenirs. Profits from the Glass Studio will go toward supporting other environmental initiatives in the BVI.
Currently, Green VI is working on converting part of their studio equipment to run off used vegetable oil, which not only reduces vegetable oil waste and operating costs, but also produces less greenhouse gas emissions. Green VI also turns crushed bottles into sea glass by tumbling it in a concrete mixer, which makes great landscaping material. All the packaging used at the studio is made from re-purposed packaging. Old t-shirts and boxes destined for the incinerator are used as packaging material.
In addition to demonstrating waste as a resource, Green VI’s Glass Studio is instrumental as an education and awareness tool. Local apprentices are being trained in the ancient art of glass blowing. The Studio has welcomed students from all the schools in the BVI to watch “trash to treasure” in action.
Ban the plastic shopping bag
Another major concern in the Territory is plastic waste; plastic bags make up the highest percentage of litter found in the BVI, they contribute to the blocking of drains and increasing the risk of flooding, and kill marine life through strangulation and ingestion. Plastics take 1000 years to photodegrade. They break down into smaller fragments which soak up toxins. These tiny particles of plastic do not have the ability to biodegrade and contaminate soil, water and living organisms forever.
This is why Worldhouse Caribbean and Green VI, in partnership with the major retailers in the BVI, felt it necessary to initiate a voluntary plastic bag ban in the BVI. Because all the major grocery stores in the territory have signed on to this proposal of their own accord, as opposed to the government enforcing the ban through legislation, the BVI is the first British Territory in the world to voluntarily ban the plastic bag.
Plastic bags, in the ocean, look a lot like jellyfish, which are a main food source to many marine animals. Plastic bags, once ingested, create blockages within the digestive system which eventually leads to death. Bringing a reusable bag with you when grocery shopping and avoiding the new 15 cent per bag charge decreases the amount of plastic bags being littered which, in turn, decreases the amount of plastic bags in the ocean.
Trash to Treasure
Green VI, in partnership with the BVI Tourist Board, the Conservation and Fisheries Department and the Youth Empowerment Project are facilitating a school trash to treasure program to encourage the youth to see and understand the value of the materials they have around them. Participants are encouraged to enter a trash to treasure contest and winner’s art will be displayed at the Earth Day Festival in Cane Garden Bay on the 20th April 2013.
Waste management is such a pressing issue in the BVI for many reasons; one main reason being that islands face space constraints to landfill. Green VI is currently working with the Government of the BVI and local recyclers to implement a viable recycling system for the Territory. Pilot composting projects, in partnership with the USVI Recycling Partnership, are being implemented.
Education and Awareness
Alongside other organizations in the BVI, Green VI is working towards educating the public about sustainability issues including waste and materials management. Green VI was awarded UNESCO funding in 2012 and 35 participants were trained on what sustainability is and how it can be implemented in their own organizations and collectively move toward a greener, cleaner and healthier BVI.