Legislation to give deposits on cans and bottles, and to institute a comprehensive recycling and composting system in the territory, was approved in committee Wednesday.
Both bills proposed by Gov. Kenneth Mapp are designed particularly to help extend the lives of the territory’s landfills, but also to improve the environment and have a number of positive benefits. Mapp also proposed a ban on plastic grocery bags, which the Committee on Housing, Public Works and Waste Management voted out of committee in June. All three bills now await consideration by the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn Henry, who helped write the recycling bill, said the V.I. Waste Management Authority is at a critical point/ She said the authority urgently needed to make progress on complying with a 2006 consent agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency on the territory’s two landfills.
Reducing the amount of material going into the landfills is critical to extending their life and showing the EPA the territory is serious about tackling the issues, she said.
In March 2016, the EPA sought $2.5 million for noncompliance, and penalties are continuing to accrue at the rate of $4,500 per day. So far the court has not decided on whether to impose the penalties and is more interested in seeing progress than issuing fines, Henry said.
The three measures should be able to reduce the waste stream by 70 percent, extending the life of the landfills by several years. But without them, the landfills must close very soon.
"Overall we must consider that if we continue on the same path, the Bovoni landfill is projected to reach capacity in January of 2017 and Anguilla in September of 2017," Henry said.
VIWMA Solid Waste Director Vincent Ebberson said the reduction of waste stream is vital but, once removed, it is also vital to have systems in place to recycle or take it off-island.
The bill for container deposits would require all beverage containers up to 1 gallon or 3.7 liters in capacity to carry a deposit, part of which will be refundable. The exact amount will be determined by VIWMA.
As written, the bill requires larger stores to have "reverse vending machines" to accept returned containers, with the number of machines required varying by the size of the store. Senators are considering amendments to reduce the number of such machines required.
Henry has prepared several amendments designed to streamline the process that may be consolidated and considered when the bill is heard in the Rules and Judiciary Committee.
Voting to send the bills on were Sens. Clifford Graham, Jean Forde, Neville James, Nereida Rivera-O’Reilly and Marvin Blyden. Sen. Kenneth Gittens voted no, saying he was concerned about the impact on small businesses and wanted more testimony. Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd was absent.