EPA Honors St. John Recycling Program with Environmental Quality Award

All those barrels, bins and bags of aluminum cans from St. John staying out of the landfill has perked the interest of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Launched about four years ago by a core group of dedicated volunteers with a lone bin in Coral Bay, the St. John Recycling program has grown to place collection bins across the island and keeping a million cans out of the landfill each year.

While residents from Cruz Bay to East End have embraced recycling, EPA regional officials have also noticed. The EPA recently awarded St. John Recyclers with its prestigious Environmental Quality Award, the agency’s highest public recognition.

The Environmental Quality Award is given to individuals, businesses and non-profit groups for “outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environment quality and public health,” according to information from EPA.

In a letter to long-time St. John Recycling volunteer Barbara Douma, EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck congratulated the group and invited members to a reception in New York City. A ceremony in the Virgin Islands will be scheduled for later in the year, Enck wrote.

The St. John Recycling program was nominated by Judy Kane and members hoped the recognition would increase membership and spur some government action.

“We hope this award prompts the government to support the effort and get on board and start hauling cans away,” said Cary Chapin.

Until this year, the recycling group relied on a St. Thomas resident with a truck who made a weekly trip to St. John on the barge and returned to Rock City with an full load. He would fill his truck with cans and bring them to STS at Subbase for recycling and keep the funds, paying for his barge fare at least.

That service, however, has since stopped and recyclers have scrambled to transport the cans which are quickly piling up at the group’s central collection site at Enighed Pond.

In addition to raising awareness about St. John Recycling Program’s needs, members hope the EPA recognition will inspire more volunteers to join as well, explained Bob DeBonis.

“We could use more help,” said DeBonis. “If you are going to St. Thomas and you have a truck, grab a few bags of cans and take them over to STS. That would be a big help.”

“We always need more volunteers and people to adopt bin sites,” he said. “If anyone has an area they want to see a recycling bin at and are willing to maintain it, we are more than happy to expand.”

The group is under the financial umbrella of St. John Community Foundation and is no longer associated with former Recycling Association of the Virgin Islands, which on St. Thomas recently joined the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John (EAST).

Instead of joining EAST, or RAVI St. Croix, St. John Recycling program members opted to remain on their own and voted on officers at their last meeting. Karl Pytlik is the group’s president, Cary Chapin is vice president, Bob DeBonis is treasurer and Gerald Bechstein is the group’s secretary.

The group invites anyone interested in recycling and keeping the recycling effort on St. John alive and strong to join its next meeting on Tuesday, May 17, at the Inn at Tamarind Court at 5:30 p.m.. For more information call SJCF at 693-9410.