Bob Schieffer, host of CBS television’s Face the Nation, closed the program last Sunday with a quote from Kevin White, Mayor of Boston from 1968 to 1984, who died last Friday at the age of 82. Bob Schieffer quoted the former mayor as saying in response to criticism during a political campaign: “Don’t judge me by the almighty. Judge me by the alternative.”
Kevin White’s message speaks to us in the Virgin Islands today as we consider alternatives to solid waste management in the face of imminent closing of landfills on St. Croix and St. Thomas. We should judge the proposed waste-to-energy project not against the unachievable, but against realizable alternatives. A few highly vocal individuals from within and outside our community would have us rely upon a “zero waste” or 100% reduction/reuse/recycling solid waste management solution to be operational by the time we close Anguilla and Bovoni landfills.
This lofty goal is not achievable within three to five years, if ever. Communities across the USA have been striving to achieve high reduction/reuse/recycling rates since the early 1970s. The national average today is 31% and a few phenomenally successful communities are achieving 60% or 70% reduction/reuse/ recycling rates. That is great, but even the highest rates are not good enough for an island territory not backstopped with sanitary landfills and separated by sea from markets for many recovered materials.
Looking at shovel-ready practical alternatives, waste-to-energy in combination with aggressive reduction, reuse and recovery offers an environmentally acceptable solution for the USVI achievable within the next three years. And it is far better than the alternatives of siting, permitting, constructing and operating new landfills on our islands; or hoping to ship raw garbage off-island.
Let’s be realistic. Let not the perfect become the enemy of the good.