Organizer of Rock City Clean Streets Kitty Edwards said St. Thomas’s streets, which can be found lined with trash on any given day, would not look as they do now if the community lived more like our ancestors.
“Think about what your ancestors would have done. 100 years ago a family living on St. Thomas did not have these unnecessary plastics and they were still able to eat fish, they still went to the market and got vegetables. Think about how your relatives would have brought their food home and act like that,” Edwards said.
Passionately, Edwards described how generations before us people wouldn’t have gone and bought a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup, they would enjoy it in porcelain in the comfort of their homes. Market Square would not be filled with families using plastic bags for the containment of produce, but would carry their purchases in woven baskets.
“I think making that connection to fairly recent relatives who did not have these plastic products is a nice way to check yourself,” Edwards said.
Plastics are the most prevalent items picked up during the Rock City Clean Streets community cleanups, where on just Sunday alone about 50 pounds of trash were collected from Market Square.
“Just this weekend between Fort Christian and Market Square there were so many cigarette butts and plastics collected. It is amazing at how much waste there is,” Edwards said.
Each cleanup organized by Edwards has volunteers record their findings on standardized data sheets that are collected, compiled and stored for information. While Edwards keeps her own tally of what is collected, she also provides the numbers to Howard Forbes, who was present for Saturday’s Rock City Clean Streets pickup.
“All of the data from St. Thomas goes to Howard Forbes who is the coordinator for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service and he has all the Coast Weeks data for over 30 years,” Edwards said.
This data can be accessed directly the VIMAS website and is updated after the culmination of each year. In 2018 from the nine locations targeted, V.I. Coast Weeks volunteers picked up and removed 1,422 straws, 1,220 food wrappers, 2,142 plastic bottles and caps, and 1,449 cigarette butts, the filters of which contain plastic. This was in addition to multiple other categories of various other trash collected, in total pieces of garbage were removed from the locations.
Edwards said Coast Weeks is great and everyone loves a beach cleanup, but to get volunteers for Rock City Clean Streets, which focuses on cleanups in town, it is less alluring and often has significantly less participation.
But Edwards said there are plenty of small changes residents can take that have a huge impact on the amount of trash lining the island’s streets, trash that she points out will often end up blown into the nearby beaches.
Some of the simplest things Edwards recommends is to eliminate the purchase of plastic water bottles and become accustomed to the carrying a stainless steel water bottle. Another tip is that while grocery shopping, pick up produce that doesn’t come in a plastic bag or have excess packing like foam plastic and plastic cling wrap. Edwards noted that meat too can be purchased from a meat counter and wrapped in butcher paper, a far superior alternative to meats wrapped in plastic.
Edwards said it is all about learning waste reduction. Not even recycling, which she said is an unsustainable model in its current practice across the states, can achieve what needs to be achieved.
“We have really hit a tipping point and are tipping down as far as climate change is concerned and the maintenance of the plastic industry is one of the main things driving the destruction of the climate. Sorting out our plastics and recycling, which is all trash that ends up shipped to other countries and ultimately floating in our oceans, is not going to give us the change we need to see,” Edwards said,
She said it is better to think how locally we can work to achieve change and bring back health to our immediate environment, which will then be doing a small but active part in helping better our planet. This is why, Edwards said many of her initiates are done at the community level.
For those who would like to volunteer Edwards said there will be another cleanup Oct. 12 in Frenchtown, meeting at the Quetel Fish House.