For years, the University of the Virgin Islands through its Coastal Cleanup initiatives has picked up glass beverage bottles and other trash that littered Virgin Islands beaches and shores. Through UVI’s Glass Crusher Project, the university is gearing up to accept glass waste from the community to improve recycling efforts in the V.I. Commencing March 27, the university will host a glass collection effort on the last Saturday of each month from 9-11 a.m. in the former West Bay Supermarket parking lot on St. Thomas.
The university purchased five glass crushers thanks to a $50,000 grant secured from the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands. The glass crushers are capable of turning bottles into sand and smaller glass pieces, or cullets, that have a variety of uses in art, landscaping, ice making, golf course bunkers, pool filtration systems, high-end sandblasting and other things. The sand can also be used to make asphalt patches for potholes, can be mixed into concrete and to make sandbags for the hurricane season.
The machine can crush a glass bottle in as little as 3-5 seconds into sand of about four to five different grain sizes. “However, there will be some fragments of small glass cullets in different sizes and sand; these will need to run through a sieve to separate all of the different fragments based on size,” said Howard Forbes Jr., coordinator of the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service.
“The machines are small and ideally cannot handle the large volume of glass waste produced by the USVI; however, our intent is to start small and eventually work our way to scaling this project upward,” he said.
Forbes noted that they can crush only glass beverage bottles. “The bottles should not be broken as broken glass can choke or jam the machine; additionally, any liquids that are in the bottle should be emptied,” he said. “Examples of glass beverage bottles include wine bottles [metal cap and ring around the neck of the bottle should be removed], beer bottles, non-alcoholic glass bottles and spirits [rum, etc.]. Unfortunately, other glass waste cannot be crushed by these machines.”
“My hope is that the purchasing of these machines, while they can’t handle the large volume of glass waste produced territorywide … will hopefully inspire others to also take a stance to better the environment of the USVI,” Forbes said. “We do recognize that glass waste does not comprise the majority of waste in the USVI; however, it is a low-hanging fruit and can serve as the driving force for something much larger.”
“We know from 30 plus years of beach cleanup data and about two to three years of mangrove shoreline cleanup data that beverage bottles [both glass and plastic] usually account for a majority of that waste,” said Forbes.
Plans are in place to secure two additional glass crushers for St. Croix.
“We are also coordinating with various community partners who would receive one of the machines through an equipment loan,” Forbes said. “My hope is to create drop-off points where residents can drop off their glass waste so that it can be crushed and, at some point, work out the logistics of transporting larger volumes of glass waste from businesses, etc., to these drop-off points.”
The GLSand machines were made by Expleco in New Zealand.
The Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service is a part of the University of the Virgin Islands, located within the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies. VIMAS works with the Virgin Islands community to raise awareness about natural resources and foster environmental stewardship.
Over the last 25 years, VIMAS and federal and local partners have participated in Coast Weeks, an international event coordinated through The Ocean Conservancy. During Coast Weeks, VIMAS agents coordinate beach cleanups on all three islands within the territory and data is collected on what types and amount of trash is collected. In 2019, 45,359 pieces of trash, which amounted to 4,888 pounds, were removed from coastlines in the territory. Some of the common debris items collected included plastic beverage bottles, plastic bottle caps, straws, food wrappers and cigarette butts.