Recycling. Why is it important and what can we do about it? The most palatable answer is that it will save all of us money. The best reason is that it is the right thing to do. About half of all the things we throw away could be recycled if a program was put in place. Imagine our landfills being half the size. Just the reclamation of public land would be reason enough to start a massive recycling effort in the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands are an environmentally fragile place and every effort must be taken to ensure that our lands and waters are free from any possible contaminants. Recycling can go a long way to prevent this but we need a major plan to do it.
Already, recyclers across the Virgin Islands are actively finding ways to help. From compost collection to help farmers to recycling aluminum cans, grass-roots organizations are taking the lead and those efforts have proven to be worthwhile. What is needed is a firm commitment from government to help the effort on a much grander scale.
On St. John, citizens have gathered to make recycling a reality. Starting with aluminum can collections, the Recycling Association of the Virgin Islands (RAVI)-St. John Chapter has shown that, if given the chance, people will recycle. That chance came when RAVI-St. John placed homemade recycling bins across St. John. The result was overwhelming! Tons of aluminum cans are being collected at a rate even the organizers never imagined. Through a partnership with Waste Management Authority (WMA), larger bins were placed at strategic locations and permission to use government land at Enighed Pond as a staging area was granted. This, along with an increasing commitment from business has doubled the collection of aluminum cans across the island in just a few months. The process is simple: collect cans at home or at your business and place them in the many bins around the island or bring them directly to the staging area. From there, RAVI volunteers transport to a metals firm on St. Thomas to be shipped off-island.
Since September of 2008, St. John volunteers or "bin adopters" have collected almost 220,000 cans! That's almost 4 tons that will not enter our landfills. Imagine if the government and other private businesses had a program where recyclables were collected daily to include plastics, glass, tires, scrap metals old batteries, cardboard, newspapers and compost? All of these can be re-used and re-directed into the economy at great savings to consumers. The issue is: how?
WMA does have a collection plan for many recyclable products but it is limited to certain times of the year and storage can be a problem. While these collections are extremely beneficial, the problem is we do not send these products off-island in sufficient quantities or as often as we should. Many products need to be "broken down" for shipment but these facilities are almost non-existent in the Virgin Islands. It would require an effort on the part of the private sector, in partnership with government, to build facilities to collect the various types of recyclable materials, break them down as required by recycling firms off-island and ship daily or weekly. In addition, the government would need to create recycling laws which would require recycling and which would benefit every citizen. Better still would be the ability to separate recyclables from our trash and use it to create electricity, thereby saving even more money for our citizens.
All these things are possible because we do recycle now. If a small effort can work, so can a larger one but it will take a strong effort by the government, private business and citizens to make it a reality. This recycling mentality is not, by any means new. All over the world, recycling has been an integral part of daily life for many years. The idea is that what we create can and must be re-used to protect our natural resources and, in the long term, save money and our environment. The Virgin Islands has a little catching up to do but with a strong effort, we too can help our fragile environment, reclaim lands and gain revenue.
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