A team sponsored by BrisaMax, an EDC company on St. Thomas, cleaned up the east end and south side of the island Monday and Tuesday, and besides removing litter the project generated data for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service for continued research of the territory’s littering problem.
Over the course of the two days the team cleaned 11 miles, filling 350 bags of trash. 21 tires, six car bumpers, a satellite dish and a downspout were among the variety of trash items cleared off the roads by the crew.
The Virgin Islands Police Department provided three police units that helped keep the crew safe during their efforts.
The cleanup started on Monday and covered from Lake’s Chicken Fry in Smith Bay to Antilles School on the south side.
Jody Olson, the lead organizer of the cleanup, was able to lean on her previous experience of organizing similar events to make the cleanup as efficient as possible.
There are long-term consequences if the trash problem is not fixed in the Virgin Islands, according to Olson.
“Our islands are so beautiful and most of the economy is tourism, but if all this trash ends up in the ocean and kills our ecosystem then there are no tourists,” she said.
In terms of solutions to the littering, VIMAS uses a “prevention by education” approach and while no one is specifically to blame, whether it be the tourist or locals, everyone has a role to play in helping improve this situation, VIMAS Coordinator Howard Forbes said.
“We are all part of the problem, but we can all be part of the solution,” he said.
Olson added, “We need to change our mindset as a culture and community, in order to really fix this problem and have more education in the schools for that.”
The cleanup was pushed back to make sure that it could happen in accordance with the governor’s stay-at-home order to make sure people could safely participate in the effort.
Gloves, masks and small teams were crucial in making sure the crew was able to stay in line with the governor’s order.
The area was broken down into 10 different sections to make the clean up of the large area more manageable based on trash concentrations.
“The goal is to be really thorough and make sure we are actually doing a good job.” Olson said.
The cleanup crew was broken into teams of eight and assigned a section. Then, each team was further broken down into groups of two and allocated the side of the road and what part of the section they were responsible for to further help with social distancing.
BrisaMax was able to pay people in the crew, which gave 54 people an opportunity to make money and help a good cause.
Tony Rosario of Westline Production and USVI Boxing helped find crewmembers for the project.
Forbes explained why it is important to keep track of data during cleanup efforts. The data was collected through an app that allowed people to track where and what types of trash they found over the two days.
“It [the data] doesn’t validate, but it presents a much stronger argument, when you are trying to put forward legislation.”
Data collected by VIMAS during past cleanup efforts has been presented at legislative hearings about banning plastic straws.
Data about trash cleanups in the territory goes as far back as 1988.
Anyone organizing a cleanup who wants to contribute data to help the Virgin Islands can contact Forbes via email at [email protected]