Op-Ed: 1,000 Cleanups Won’t Deter the Littering Population in the USVI

A dozen or more Crucians gather to collect trash on St. Croix this spring. (File photo by Linda Morland)
A dozen or more Crucians gather to collect trash on St. Croix this spring. (File photo by Linda Morland)

For three years, I’ve been amazed and inspired by the number of residents leading cleanups on St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, and even the oft forgotten historic district of Hassel Island. I was extremely happy to see the Department of Tourism encouraging residents to assist in collecting trash throughout the territory.

In high school, I worked in the Clean and Preen program that VIWMA held at the time. Each summer for three years, classmates and myself collected huge amounts of trash on the roadside. We were often disheartened to see some of the areas we had completely transformed filled with litter in just under a week.

At the time, I blamed people for being lazy and nasty because they chose to throw their trash out of their car window.

My classmates and I even witnessed instances where people would throw trash bags filled with waste along the Donoe Bypass and the connecting Donoe Road above the Home Depot on St. Thomas. As the years passed, I began gaining sympathy for people that littered without considering the broader consequences.

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Yes, I said sympathy.

When I moved back home from North Carolina in late 2015, I made the trip with my car. A car that I specifically bought because I knew limited public transportation would make having my own set of wheels a necessity. That same year, the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority announced that the Smith Bay bin site servicing residents in the area would be closed to accommodate the construction of the Margaritaville Vacation Club.

Before that, another trash bin had been recently shuttered near the bottom of Cassi Hill leading into Smith Bay. For weeks, residents continued to throw trash on the roadside where the bins were previously located. This continued until signs and a physical barrier were placed at the site and enforcement was ramped up.

When I moved into my apartment in 2016, there weren’t any trash collection services in my area, which meant the closest trash bins near me were located in the Tutu High Rise apartments, which had signs warning that the trash bins were only for tenants and violators would be fined if caught. That was also the closest location for Smith Bay residents, who lost their last trash collection site in 2015. I once lived near an elderly lady who lived alone and relied on her son to remove her trash every few days on St. Thomas. My roommate would also help on some days. She had a car but only drove it to church on Sundays and to check her mailbox if she was expecting mail.

Like many, I found it difficult to find a nearby trash bin that was open to the public. I lived near Cassi Hill at the time and the closest trash bins to me were the bins on Raphune Hill, trash bins in the Bovoni area and the cleanest trash receptacle located right outside the Mahogany Run Golf Course and condominiums.

Since 2015, I’ve had three apartments on St. Thomas. And each of those apartments required me to travel with my household trash to remote bin sites several times a week. In each of those places, which were home to hundreds of residents without cars or access to reliable transportation, there was a trash epidemic that plagued the roadside.

Localities such as Annas Retreat, Wintberg, Bordeaux and even downtown Charlotte Amalie experience similar problems.

For littering to stop in the U.S. Virgin Islands, every resident would need unimpeded access to trash collection services and a government committed to locating funds and federal programs to maintain each island’s specific waste needs.

When I first moved back home, my car was brand new and I wasn’t too worried about it giving me issues for a few years. With my apartment wedged between Smith Bay and Annas Retreat, I noticed my neighbors and others living in the area without cars walking to work with trash bags in their hands.

Many walked to the safari route and would board with a bag of trash – I was never sure where the bag’s final destination would be. I would also see people who lived in more remote areas, especially on hilltops, heading down the road on foot with trash bags. The bags were usually tiny but some residents walked with large bags and even empty boxes.

I still see it today. Flashing back to my time working for Clean and Preen, it made sense that my classmates found trash bags in remote areas. People without cars, and limited or zero access to trash collections services also needed a place to put their trash – and you can guess where it usually ended up.

I’m afraid that even if we facilitated 1,000 cleanups throughout the territory over the next five years, it won’t make a dent in curbing littering if trash collection initiatives aren’t expanded to meet the growing demand. I believe residents intimately know that littering negatively impacts the environment. However, I don’t believe that residents are aware of how harmful microplastics can be to local fish, birds, coral reefs and trees. Re-educating the public about the consequences of littering and ways to curb it are a great start.

Reshaping how we treat our environment and the way we dispose of waste on our small islands can improve public health and dramatically improve the territory’s tourism product as more American tourists seek out eco-friendly destinations.

I don’t have a solution for the territory’s waste crisis, nor am I criticizing those responsible for keeping our islands clean. What I do have is sympathy for the individuals who have limited access to collection sites and often make the lax choice of abandoning their trash on our roadsides.

Reshaping how we criticize and approach people who litter can help us understand how the territory’s waste crisis that has existed for more than 30 years can be improved.

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Mirrors so many of my observations over the years. There was a time when dumpsters were located conveniently all over St. Thomas. It seems that whenever there was a “trash problem” the answer seemed to be to remove a dumpster that was overflowing, possibly because of a lack of trucks, or money to pay the truckers, to keep the sites clear and available. It grew worse with the establishment of the WMA which has closed down even more dumpster sites and has yet to start up the promised island wide programs including at least weekly trash collection with coded household waste bins for trash separation. There are some areas that do have home collection services, which is nice, but, as this op-ed piece asks, what about the rest of us who have lost convenient places to put our trash?

  2. A very thought provoking editorial. We must do more to protect our environment and provide more options for litter control and prevention, thank you.
    Here is one way you can help with micro plastics. If you can get your plastics to Plaza Extra, Tutu on Saturday morning you can recycle them and avoid it from ending up in our streets, dumps, coastlines and into our bodies. But we need community support and volunteers to make happen.
    Please visit

    https://www.facebook.com/events/410607912868586/?ti=icl

  3. The answer is better collection services, which requires money for trucks and payroll. But, government of the V.I. is notoriously inept, crooked, and concerned only with advancing themselves and their cronies. Until the people STOP voting for the crooks that are raping their own people…nothing will change.

  4. When a populous is blind to the surrounding beauty, only seeing the island as “where they live”, it will only get worse. There was a point to where the region was on the verge of genuine harmony, then Obama was elected and drove a wedge between alliances. Now Trump is President, it’s only getting worse. Our visit was disappointing in a few particular aspects, so many people angry behind silent sullen eyes. Waiting & looking for a reason to shriek and point a finger, much like verywhere else in America, the age of social media drama. Very few will be able to coexist on such a beautiful place without strife. The overpopulation, filth, crime and chaos will drive the tourists away, the islands economy will fail, then violence will escalate. History has a way of repeating itself when people fail to leave the past where it lies, behind them. When generations accept how thing are, nothing will change. As a territory, Little will get better at the behest of the US Government, don’t forget, your vote doesn’t count to politicians. The truth is simple, if you want things to change, it must start from within. Over 4 million visitors a year, 80% are shitfaced drunk blowing huge amounts of money, and they can’t keep the streets clean. Crying shame. Racial tension, lack of education, complacency. The true enemy of any economy. The trash is simply the byproduct of the problems on the island. The distance between the islanders, expats and tourists needs to close together.

  5. Thank you for speaking up, you article those not go far enough and expose the racism that is going on . High population density areas are under serve and those areas which are addressed are areas where we don’t live or in mass numbers. We appease the white and upper crust ruling class and suffer in silence, while they remove services and tell us it is our fault, I live above the Mandahal bin site and work out in Bovoni , there should be drop off site outside of this landfill and there is none, why but you place a collection site in one of the most remote area and staff it, but the rest of the islands suffer so you can appease the ruling class and they can say come over here to this site, it is open. The infrastructure in the USVI has been woefully inadequate to meet the needs of a poor and underrepresented populist that allows elected official to remain unaccountable each political cycle.

    • I was with you until your comment about racism being the cause of garbage issues. I am curious as to your assertion of racism. Is this the general consensus among the local-born population, or just your perception? Are you saying that the “white and upper crust” are the ruling class? Or they are racist toward people here? I’m not denying there are racist white people here-they live everywhere. As do racist people of all colors. But it has also been my understanding that the local-born population usually experience racism when they first go elsewhere, usually the mainland USA. I refer to a very interesting recent article in St Thomas Source. I am also confused as to whom the “ruling class” refers to. The only faces I see in government are Afro-Caribbean/American local-born or those born on other islands. And as a white (well, pale) transplant, but US-born citizen, I have learned to not presume to expect any special treatment, or as I have experienced, any cordial treatment, on the occasions when I have had to interact with government or retail employees. I am usually made to feel that I am not particularly welcome, nor are my concerns of any importance. Am I a white victim of racism? I cannot say. Long story short, it has been my experience that local-born residents are usually treated much better than transplants. By the way, I don’t have a dumpster within two miles of my house, and it’s located in the opposite direction in which I travel every day. We need a sea-change in garbage collection and disposal but will it happen in our lifetime? And is white racism really a factor?

      • Well what you have mentioned is the treatment that everyone recieves when visiting government offices and retail establishments on the islands. The treatment is no better for blacks. Its just a lack of good customer service that is widespread throughout the islands. Do you realizef that the majority of people that lives on these islands are actually foriegn born and many of the original natives have left for the mainland U.S. Those who native born nowadays are first generation and typically their allegiance has been to the place where their parents originated from. Thats why you see the lack of pride and the dont care attitudes which involves littering the place. Until their parents teach them to have pride in the place where they were born, you continue to see a disregard for their home.

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