In honor of the 46th Earth Day, environmentally conscious students from the University of the Virgin Islands organized a day of teaching, discussion and music to help raise awareness about the territory’s mounting garbage issues.
A couple dozen students, musicians and faculty members attended the event titled “Earth Day Symposium: Solid Waste in the Territory,” which was held at UVI’s Administration and Conference Center on Friday. Professionals, professors and students presented on a number of waste-related issues, including the Bovoni landfill, solar power and the concept of upcycling.
Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria, whose students planned the symposium, explained that they learned about environmental science theory in his course and then were required to organize an event that builds on the topics they covered.
He said after listening to Gov. Kenneth Mapp’s State of the Territory address earlier this year, the students were drawn to his remarks about reforming waste disposal in the territory by providing recycling and composting. Since the address, the governor has proposed recycling and composting legislation, as well as a ban on plastic bags.
The address lit a spark: Wyllie-Echeverria and the students worked with the Governor’s Office to create an Earth Day proclamation. On April 1, the governor signed the declaration, which focuses on addressing the territory’s waste issues.
Nate Zaik, a student in Wyllie-Echeverria’s class, read the proclamation during the event, which states: “As a territory, we must act to protect our environment before it is too late. It is our goal to raise awareness and ignite a spirit of stewardship among businesses and the people of the Virgin Islands…”
Wyllie-Echeverria said, “The purpose of the event is to increase awareness about waste problems in the territory and to encourage people to do something about it.”
To understand the extent and complexity of these issues, the students took fieldtrips to the Bovoni landfill and the newly constructed Mandahl Convenience Center, which will serve as a trash collection and compaction site when it opens in May.
For Kamarla Fearon, a UVI senior studying biology, the event was about education.
“It’s a way of making people more aware about how the resources they depend on are being depleted and why we need to pursue renewable and reusable ones,” Fearon said.
Oureika Petty, a sophomore studying social sciences, echoed her classmate’s thoughts. “I feel like every day should be Earth Day, but having a specific day is good for people who aren’t aware of the threats our environment is facing,” Petty said.
Fearon and Petty both said the class had made them more environmentally conscious and inspired them to cut down on their use of plastic bags. They said they also enjoyed learning how to plan and organize a public event.
During the first teaching session, Cordell Jacobs, a program manager at the V.I. Waste Management Authority, shared tips on how to be a savvy environmentalist: advocate for the environment, support businesses that respect the environment, don’t litter, use reusable water bottles, break up cardboard boxes and reduce consumption by using things like canvas grocery bags.
“We must move beyond the antagonism that is usually present when we talk about the environment – we can’t always be pointing fingers at others,” Jacobs said.
Musical intermissions took place between the teaching sessions, with attendees hearing the smooth sounds of reggae artist Relief Propser in the morning and saxophonist Damien Montague and pianist Ade-Osaze Warrington, both UVI music students, in the afternoon.
Fearon said that when she wore her class’s Earth Day shirt to the store on Friday morning, a number of people asked her what the day means. “It’s a way of celebrating Earth and making changes that help improve it,” she told them.