Ed | USVI must tackle the problems of plastic waste and toxic sunscreen now
“Microplastics, microbeads and single-use plastics are poisoning marine life and affecting humans. Every year, an estimated eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean, which is equivalent to a full garbage truck dumped in the sea every minute.
– United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)
In 2016, the United Nations adopted Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life Below Water), emphasizing the urgent need to tackle ocean plastic pollution. A Special Envoy for the Ocean was appointed by the Secretary-General in 2017, highlighting its importance.
In 2021, the UN launched the “Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development”, which tackles plastic pollution in the oceans. The next United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon will also be confronted with the question.
Plastic waste is on the agenda of the G7 and G20, with pressure from environmental organizations to adopt a global treaty on plastic pollution. Many countries, especially island nations and those dependent on sun/sand/sea tourism, are already developing strict goals, strategies and laws to stem the tide and mitigate a possible “tsunami effect” of plastic pollution on their land. oceans and their beaches.
All of the above sends a clear message: single-use plastic pollution must be controlled.
Despite WMA’s valiant efforts, we have long faced challenges in managing our waste. Inadequate infrastructure and lack of funds, municipal source separation, composting and mandatory recycling have been huge obstacles, especially given our nearly full landfills.
Island Green Living, along with other like-minded groups and environmentalists, have fought for positive change. We helped draft the source separation and container deposit invoices. When WMA tried to enforce the plastic bag ban, a supermarket chain took legal action.
Today, many stores offer green plastic bags indicating that they are compostable. However, they are only compostable in a municipal composting setting, which does not exist here. Under the guise of being environmentally friendly, companies distribute plastic bags that end up on our beaches, in the ocean and in landfills.
Let me pose a question to our businesses that depend on our tourism-based economy: why do tourists choose to visit the US Virgin Islands?
Mainly because of our pristine beaches and clear aqua blue waters with a plethora of marine life such as turtles, stingrays, octopus, fish and the most spectacular multicolored coral. Snorkeling, diving, boating and swimming are among the most popular activities with tourists. As residents, we also appreciate these things.
Imagine if we became like certain beaches in Bali, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, etc. – polluted with plastic bags and other debris. Dead corals and marine life due to uncontrolled irresponsible behavior including the use of toxic sunscreen containing oxybenzone and other dangerous chemicals.
As a tourism-based economy, if we don’t protect our precious natural resources, we won’t have tourists. I have never met a tourist who would fly in to see dead coral, plastic-strewn beaches, a brown oil slick on the ocean, or turtles with tumors and plastic around their necks. When tourists go fishing and bring back fish to cook, the last thing they want is to find plastic in the belly of the fish. AND WE DON’T EITHER!
So we say to USVI companies: Think beyond this year’s earnings. If you want tourists to keep coming, take matters into your own hands and discourage single-use plastics. Stop selling toxic sunscreen, educate tourists on do’s and don’ts like no smoking on our beaches, no touching or feeding wildlife, etc.
We can all make a difference. Island Green is pleased to announce its new Ocean-Bound Plastics Recycling Program, which will collect #1, 2, and 5 single-use plastics in St. John for recycling through PADNOS, a Michigan-based recycling company. This includes items such as water and soda bottles, detergent and milk jugs, jars, etc. It is essential to emphasize that recycling must be the LAST step. RETHINK before buying single-use plastic. If there is no other option, REDUCE as much as possible. Next REUSE existing plastic and finally – RECYCLE.
If it were up to us, there would be no single-use plastics to contend with – but in the meantime our program aims to mitigate so these items are recycled into valuable products rather than polluting the sea or clogging up our landfills. The initiative complements our existing aluminum can recycling program which has, to date, removed more than 1.2 million cans from the waste stream. The community can drop off plastics as well as aluminum at our St. John location. Additionally, we will soon be launching regular collections with dedicated bins at major WMA sites across the island.
In addition to the reduction of single-use plastics and mandatory source separation, we need to introduce a green/eco program that touches on agriculture/food safety, renewable energy and recycling. As a member of the Governor’s Farm Plan Task Force, we recommended that 44 new teachers be hired to achieve this.
Governor Bryan, with your vision to increase food production, renewable energy, electric vehicles and expand sustainable waste management, a key tool is to introduce this PreK-12 program. Collaboration between the Ministries of Education, Agriculture, Energy and UVI would be one of the most effective tools you have in your arsenal to preserve our islands and the environment.
There are many federal and private grant funds available to tackle our environmental problems. Invest in a team of professional grant writers perhaps even collaborating with UVI.
Governor, please help us educate businesses, residents and tourists about sustainability. And insist that the Department of Tourism educate tourists about our toxic sunscreen law so visitors know to use only safe mineral sunscreen. It’s been almost two years since the ban went into effect and there’s still not a word about it on their website or in marketing.
Delegate Plaskett, we appreciate your interest in climate change issues. Help us by introducing a nationwide ban on toxic sunscreens.
Senate Speaker Frett-Gregory, please help by enacting bans on polystyrene and single-use plastic equipment, as well as import guidelines for electric vehicles versus fossil fuel vehicles.
Many people and organizations are doing amazing work on the islands and they are an inspiration to all of us. Together, in collaboration as a team, we can do it. Let’s make USVI an example to emulate.
Presented Thursday by: Harith Wickrema, President, Island Green Living
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