The U.S. Virgin Islands has struggled with tire disposal for many years, with countless reports of discarded tires showing up in mangroves, tucked into the lush island vegetation, piled high in back streets and even so plentiful that the Health Department has cited them as a health risk when found stacked near school grounds.
In an attempt to counteract the problem the V.I. Senate’s Committee on Government Operations, Consumer Affairs, Energy, Environment and Planning voted Friday to approve Bill No. 33-0111, which, if approved by the full Senate and signed into law, would require the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority to designate tire disposal sites throughout the territory and establish a disposal fund.
Testifiers at Friday’s hearing said they understood the measures needed to legally discard a tire in the territory and how vast the problem of illegal dumping of unwanted tires has become.
Rodriguez Auto Parts General Manager Enrique Rodriguez said the company was the first in the territory to receive certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to send tires to the mainland for disposal.
“For several years we have been shipping our tires to the U.S. mainland. During that time, we have sent about 200 container loads to Florida,” Rodriguez said. “We charge our clients a disposal fee per tire that barely covers the cost of loading the containers, shipping and bulk disposal in Florida. There, the tires are recycled to be used for roads, as mulch or burned for fuel.”
While Rodriguez said 99 percent of the company’s customers are willing to pay for the disposal fee, he said this is not always the case at other companies.
“We do have a problem with companies that bring in their own tires. Trucking and construction companies that mount their tires and do not properly dispose of their tires, because they do not generate the volume to fill a container. This also occurs with the small tire shops that do not have the volume to fill a container. Also, private citizens that refuse to pay disposal and take their old tires with them, after purchasing new tires and dump them wherever they can,” Rodriguez said.
But the problem appears to be more prevalent to Rodriquez on St. Croix than on St. Thomas, where he speculated that perhaps land scarcity and enforcement may come into play.
Jennifer Valiulis, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, said the group encounters waste tires nearly everywhere it goes.
“They are on the roadsides, in the bush, on the beaches and in the ocean,” Valiulis said. “Besides the obvious aesthetic impact of having waste tires in places that are not intended for trash disposal, tires have a negative impact on our environment. Tires contain chemicals and heavy metals that leech into the surrounding environment as the tires break down. This does not just affect the immediate area where the tire is located. These chemicals and heavy metals wash down towards the ocean during heavy rainfall events and affect every plant, animal and human that is downstream from the initial source.”
The federal government supplied the territory with $1.2 million to clean up illegally dumped tires near the Anguilla and Bovoni landfills, but that was more than 10 years ago and has done little to curb the ever-growing problem, which ends up posing serious health and environmental concerns, Valiulis said.
“In addition to the direct toxic effects of tires in the environment, water that collects in discarded tires serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that can carry diseases such as dengue, Zika and chikungunya. Tires can also provide shelter to other nuisance species, including red-tailed boas,” Valiulis said.
The V.I. Waste Management Authority has recognized the challenge, and during the period from September 2018 to present, the Authority’s interim Executive Director Ann Hanley said more than $1.3 million has already been spent removing waste tires from the island.
“Over a million pounds of tires have been shipped off-island for disposal,” Hanley said. “The June 2019 scrap metal fire, Anguilla Landfill, burned in excess of 500 waste tires.”
Even after the fire, the Authority still has 196,000 discarded tires stored at the landfills which Hanley said were collected from bin sites and illegal dumpsites on the islands.
While there is no quick fix to the territory’s tire disposal issues, the legislation seeks to charge tire retailers a disposal fee, which would be passed on to the consumer. This fee, placed on the sale of every new tire, would be deposited into a fund that would go towards the cost of exporting used tires.
All testifiers and committee members supported the measure. The bill is now passed to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further scrutiny.
Sens. Myron Jackson, Marvin Blyden, Javan James Sr., Kenneth Gittens, Athneil Thomas, Allison DeGazon and Alicia Barnes were present for the hearing.