As part of their ongoing work to protect the coastal environment and eliminate single-use plastic, Plastic-Free Island: St. John brought together community members, government agencies, and local and global organizations for a free and open to the public Summit on St. John July 27-29.
Throughout the summit, community members and organizations shared resources and solutions to the plastic pollution problem. Island youth got involved with special sessions led by Kristal Ambrose of Bahamas Plastic Movement, who regularly teaches kids of all ages about how to stop plastic pollution in fun, engaging ways. Allison Fraley, the solid waste and recycling manager from Kauai, Hawaii, presented on how Kauai has achieved a 43 percent waste diversion rate on the island; and Paul Chakroff, executive director of the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, discussed the need to find economically viable ways to recover the products that end up in the waste stream.
Participants included Jackie Nunez, founder of The Last Plastic Straw (a project of PPC); Harith Wickrema, president of Island Green Living Association; Doug White, a founder of Island Green, Esteban Monge Reymundi of Ambiente Organico; Tonia Lovejoy and Erin Lieb founders of Get Trashed St. John, Kemit-Amon Lewis of Reef Responsible, and representatives from the local Rotary Chapter, as well as representatives from local hotels and resorts on island.
Greg George and Vernessa Bellot presented from Bug Out Program in BVI, whose mission is to keep mosquitoes from multiplying and spreading diseases such as Zika, which has grown into a mission to eradicate single-use plastics. “Hundreds of mosquito larvae can grow in a single bottle cap,” said George.
Other organizations in attendance included the St. John Community Foundation, Blue Flag USVI Conservation, Plastic Pollution Coalition, and teenage students from Heirs to Our Oceans. Activists and business representatives came to the summit from places such as the U.S Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, Georgia, Louisiana, California, and Hawaii, and all the way from Micronesia, Saipan and Palau.
Plastic-Free Island: St. John began as a small collaboration inspired by the Plastic-Free Island concept envisioned by Pam Longobardi, founder of Drifters Project, and Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition. The first initiative Plastic-Free Island: St. John took on was eliminating plastic straws, one of the most common plastic items found on beaches, from local businesses and restaurants.
Because of waste activists’ efforts, 14 restaurants on St. John have stopped using plastic straws. Ken Haldin, a founder of Plastic-Free Island St. John and one of the summit organizers, recognized the following restaurants for taking action: Joe's Rum Hut, Asolare, Cinnamon Bay, Barefoot Cowboy, Indigo Grill, Rhumb Lines, Skinny Legs, Thirsty Donkey, The Triple B, Woody’s Seafood Saloon, Wok on the Beach, Pizzabar in Paradise, and Concordia Eco Resort.
“It was incredible to see the progress Plastic Free Islands St. John has made in such a short time in getting restaurants and bars to commit to stop serving plastic straws,” said Jackie Nunez of The Last Plastic Straw. “With many more businesses only serving straws upon request, the island of St. John is well on their way to becoming a plastic-straw free island and an example for other islands to follow!”
The summit culminated with a community showing of STRAWS Film at the Susannaberg Ruins. By the end of the summit, stakeholders had a clear takeaway: doing something today to curb the use and flow of single-use plastic will help make a healthier, more vibrant economy and island community tomorrow.
“The model of Plastic-Free Islands is so valuable because it can be applied to different avenues: schools, businesses, community groups; these all can be considered ‘islands,’ explains Dianna Cohen, co-founder and CEO of PPC. “Whether you’re in Greece, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, or anywhere else, you can bring the Plastic-Free Islands concept to your community. I want to compliment Ken Haldin, Doug White, and Harith Wickrema, and all of the groups involved in Plastic-Free Island St. John for adapting the program in a way that has engaged the community.”