Island Green Living Sees St. John as a Eco-Friendly Dream

Like this mixed media sculpture. above, made from recycled beverage tops, Virgin Islands policies on recycling are a work in progress. 
Photo by Judi Shimel.

ST. JOHN — If it were up to the head of the Island Green Living Association, St. John would become the greenest island in the world. IGLA President Harith Wickrema recently shared his vision for day to day living in that very green place.

When envisioning St. John as an ecological Paradise, the Island Green Living chief says he sees people tending home gardens, fed by compost made at home. Sun worshipers would use lotions that don’t harm coral when washed off in the sea.

Taxi drivers would zip around the island in electric vehicles, shuttling beachgoers who would park their own cars and ride through the national park. Those cars, by the way, would be electric as well.

Smokers would have to puff somewhere away from the shoreline. Styrofoam snack boxes and plastic beverage straws would become compostable.

St. John would be litter free.

Households would tidy floors and laundry with non polluting cleaners. Recycling would be a way of life, Wickrema said.

“There would be an eco-friendly way of living, sustainable living. And we would preserve our island with respect to our next generation,” he said.

The conversation took place during V.I. Recycles Month, proclaimed in November by Gov. Kenneth Mapp. The governor called it a time to think about ways to reduce the waste stream headed to the territory’s landfills on St. Thomas and St. Croix, and the Susannaberg Transfer Station on St. John.

“The main purpose of the month’s events is to focus attention on recycling and waste reduction to help reduce the volume of reusable materials that end up in our Transfer Stations and landfills,” Mapp said as he issued a proclamation Oct. 31.

Getting landfills under control is moving towards a crisis in the territory. Conditions at Anguilla Landfill on St. Croix and Bovoni on St. Thomas have been the subject of a federal lawsuit by the U.S. Justice Department for several years.

At a recent hearing on improving waste management, District Court Judge Curtis Gomez said he may appoint a federal receiver.

Wickrema is hoping that one step towards easing the crisis will be found in a bill making it way through the 31st Legislature. Bill No. 31-0380, if passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor would create the Virgin Islands Source Separation Act.

Wickrema, who also serves as chairman of the Waste Management Authority board, said he expected the bill to move towards Senate approval before the end of the month.

If passed, the bill would amend Title 19, Chapter 56 of the Virgin Islands Code in order to, “promote the general health, welfare and safety of the residents of the Virgin Islands, to protect the environment and to manage the solid waste stream …” Items like cardboard, glass, metals, newsprint, plastics, and building materials would all find their way to a place where they could be recycled or disposed of responsibly.

Island Green has already taken steps towards that end. For the past several years the association has run the ReSource Depot near Public Works at Gifft Hill. Surplus hardware supplies, paints, furniture and small appliances in usable condition fill the storage containers at the depot. Residents can purchase any item for a small fee.

Visits to the recycling center were part of a recent workshop organized for students by the Coral Bay Community Council. Other developments that help fuel the green island vision include the upcoming plastic bag ban, effective Jan. 1, 2017.

The idea for an eco-friendly island shows signs of support on St. John and have so for many years. Businessman Stanley Selengut ran an eco-friendly resort, Maho Bay Campground and later Concordia Resort, which recently shifted towards new management.

Local advocates have set receptacles to gather thousands of aluminum cans, starting in the 1990s. By the early 2000s efforts were being made to recycle glass. When members of Island Green recently met with St. Thomas lawmaker Marvin Blyden, the idea of glass recycling was raised again for discussion.

There have even been attempts to recycle used cooking oil, a practice that has found a home at the pottery kiln in Coral Bay. Igloos for used motor oil became part of the landscape more than 20 years ago and are now incorporated into the operations at Susannaberg.

If St. John were to achieve Wickrema’s green island vision, it could take its place among places like the Maldives Islands in the Indian Ocean, Star Island in the Bahamas, Figi, Singapore and Vietnam, Belize and Martinique.

In those places, luxury resorts have sprung up, providing models for sustainable living while preserving the natural island resources that travelers desire.

For now, Wickrema says he would be content with better landfill management through source separation and the elimination of single use plastic shopping bags.

Editor’s Note: There will be a meeting hosted by IGLA tonight, Tuesday, Nov. 29, to discuss Sustainability on St. John. The meeting is happening at 5pm at the Westin St. John Resort & Villas in the Coral Room. For more information, visit Island Green Living Association’s Facebook page