Thanks to All Summit-Goers and Our Supporters

One week ago today, Plastic-Free Island: St. John kicked off its first-ever Summit on St. John.

Across 2 1/2 days and evenings, more than 100 individuals (in addition to our own Working Group) attended one or more Summit sessions or related awareness activities involving 15 presentations made at seven different local venues. Collectively, they represented 20+ organizations, enterprises or businesses and members of the USVI Legislature. We also were pleased to honor and recognize 14 local restaurants/establishments that made the switch to No Plastic Straws in 2017 as part of their commitment to reduce unnecessary disposable plastic across this island.

In addition, students from St. Thomas (Youth Ocean Explorers) were joined for a Summit youth session by the students of Heirs to Our Oceans.The latter group traveled here from California and elsewhere in the Pacific to be with us and engaged in many additional sessions. The Heirs also gave an incredible (and emotional) concluding presentation at The Westin as well.

This is to publicly thank the amazing support provided by our local venue hosts: The WestinCinnamon Bay, St. John Brewers and Bajo el Sol Gallery at Mongoose Junction as well as Movie Night at Susannaberg Ruins and The Bowery at Wharfside Village. The generosity of these venue leaders in opening their doors to us — at no cost — plus providing dedicated support while we were on-site is tremendously appreciated and will not be forgotten.

We are also indebted to our local mentor organization, Island Green Living Association, and its President, Harith Wickrema, as well as Island Green's Board of Directors for their continuing guidance and support. In addition, Dr. Gary Ray went above and beyond to spend his personal time enlightening our youth visitors, deepening their knowledge of island conservation and related sciences.

We were also grateful to synchronize and coordinate our Summit efforts and public outreach with the Coral Bay Community Council under the leadership of Sharon Coldren. In addition, we received essential accommodations support + gracious hosting from Harith Wickrema and Brad & Juli Camrud. Through the efforts of VIWMA’s Alice Krall, the Youth Ocean Explorers were also safely transported to and from their STJ session.

Appreciation also goes to our many session speakers and presenters who gave generously of their time and expertise, including representatives of Green VI/Bugout BVI, USVI/DPNR and The Nature Conservancy, among others. We also were fortunate to be able to showcase wonderful plastic-free products provided to us by S'Well, Aardvark Straws and Spicers Mill

Finally, deep thanks goes to our friends and mentors from the Plastic Pollution Coalition under the leadership of Dianna Cohen. Dianna, along with Jane Patton, PPC managing director, and Jackie Nunez, founder of The Last Plastic Straw, traveled to St. John to join us at their organization's own expense, accompanied by Kristal Ambrose, founder of the Bahamas Plastic Movement. Together, they provided the expert knowledge, insights and spirit we needed to make the Summit truly meaningful and forward-looking. We literally could not have done it without them.

The Summit on St. John’s sole purpose was to galvanize those already involved in reducing single-use plastic waste to become even more informed and engaged plus to create awareness among others not previously reached but motivated to learn more then act. It’s fair to say we achieved that — and more.

On behalf of the Plastic-Free Island: St. John Working Group, who diligently laid the groundwork for the Summit and Plastic-Free July over the past six months, many thanks to all of our wonderful supporters and attendees. Please stay tuned to plasticfreestjohn.com for news + updates on how you can become even more involved.

Register Now for The Summit on St. John. It's Free!

From Thursday, July 27-Saturday, July 29, a special series of events, gatherings and activities is now scheduled. The first-ever “Summit on St. John” will take place around the island, including locations in Cruz Bay and at The Westin, at Cinnamon Bay and in Coral Bay.

Special guests and subject-matter experts attending hail from California, Hawaii and the Bahamas, among other locales.

Everyone is welcome to attend! And no need to participate all three days or even one day. Short sessions designed around single-focus topics like Event Planning, Restaurants & Retail, Art, Villas & Hotel Management, and Economic Development are on the Summit slate.

All sessions are free and open to the public. Register now via Eventbrite.

~~~~~

The Summit on St. John is produced and hosted by Plastic-Free Island: St. John, an all-volunteer collaboration project aimed at public awareness and targeting the elimination of immediate and long-term damage caused by disposable plastics.  Locally, the Island Green Living Association and Coral Bay Community Council are among those involved in supporting the Summit and related July activities.

Plastic-Free July Month Targets Higher Awareness of Single-Use Plastic Harm

Summit on St. John Set for July 27-29 in Cruz Bay, Cinnamon Bay and Coral Bay

A month-long series of public awareness activities, all aimed at highlighting the damage caused by single-use disposable plastics and making positive change toward plastic-free living, is set to begin July 1 on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The month, known here and globally as Plastic-Free July, culminates with a three-day Summit on St. John gathering at the end of the month.

Throughout July, residents, visitors, merchants, hospitality employees, property owners and local organizations are encouraged to learn more about ways they can individually curb harmful single-use plastic in both their daily personal life and business life. Any and all steps toward doing so will help protect and preserve our precious island environment, coastlines, sea life and, ultimately, ourselves.

Awareness during July is intended to build on the many positive actions already taken by individuals and local business owners to reduce their disposable-plastic use on island. For example, eliminating unnecessary plastic drinking straws and greater focus on the negative effects of single-use plastic is becoming common among St. John restaurants (like cutlery and to-go packaging) and retailers (single-use bags).

To build on these actions during July andbeyond, A “No Straw, Please” Video Competition, featuring valuable prizes, is already under way. Other awareness activities, learning and actions will continue throughout the month.

About The Summit on St. John:

From Thursday, July 27-Saturday, July 29, a special series of events, gatherings and activities is planned. The first-ever “Summit on St. John” will take place around the island during those days, including locations in Cruz Bay and at The Westin, Cinnamon Bay and in Coral Bay.

Summit events and topics include current best practices to reduce unnecessary plastic here and elsewhere in the Caribbean and globally; knowledge and facts about bio-plastics, compostables and other plastic alternative products; ways to reduce the plastic impacts of on-island events, and student curriculum sharing. Film sessions, art talks and other public forums also will be featured.

Special guests and subject-matter experts attending hail from California, Hawaii and the Bahamas, among other locales. Everyone is welcome to attend!

The Summit on St. John is produced and hosted by Plastic-Free Island: St. John, an all-volunteer collaboration project aimed at public awareness and targeting the elimination of immediate and long-term damage caused by disposable plastics.  Locally, the Island Green Living Association and Coral Bay Community Council are among those involved in supporting the Summit and related July activities. For more about the Summit, watch for updates.

Plastic-Free Island: St. John is an Innovation Project launched on St. John in mid-2016 under the Plastic-Free Island concept founded by Dianna Cohen (Plastic Pollution Coalition) and Pam Longobardi (Drifters Project).

100 Years: Past, Present & Future

As the U.S. Virgin Islands commemorates 100 years since its transfer from Denmark to the United States, all who struggled and worked to build the Virgin Islands since 1917 are worthy of the many tributes now under way and continuing throughout 2017.

In addition to acknowledging the challenges stated by Gov. Mapp and the Centennial Commission, we plan to do our part. We intend to help the Territory rid itself of a 2oth Century environmental hazard that still plagues our islands today: single-use plastic. After all, when the United States territory was created in 1917, there was NO PLASTIC here.

Already, many local merchants, retailers and restaurant owners have stepped up to the Plastic-Free Island challenge. But change is not always easy, simple or even clear. Confusion about plastic alternatives, such as bio-plastics and compostables, is rampant locally.

We pledge to try to assist the many who want to do the right thing by providing more and better information and guidance about plastic-free purchasing.

Fortunately, the problem of disposable plastic won’t take 100 years to solve. Refuse single-use, disposable plastic. Choose reusable containers, glass or paper.

It’s up to us to protect this beautiful place for the next 1oo years and beyond. Doing something today to curb the use and flow of these unnecessary disposables tomorrow will help make a healthier, more vibrant economy and island community, both today and after Transfer Day 2017.

 

No Straw, Please - Plastic-Free Island: St. John Leads Plastic-Straw Reduction Campaign

Reducing and eventually eliminating one-time-use plastic straws from St. John and its gorgeous but fragile environment is the goal of a new local campaign called "No Straw, Please."

Unnecessary single-use plastic is detrimental to marine life as well as the local economy. Single-use drinking straws are among the most useless “one-touch then toss” items made from plastic, especially if they end up in the waters around Cruz Bay, Coral Bay and the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park.

“Each of us doing our part to say “No Straw, Please” is a small but essential way we can all individually start tackling the sheer volume of disposable plastic that plagues our island and the Territory,” said Working Group members of Plastic-Free Island: St. John.

The grassroots drive to help rid the island of nuisance straws is part of a broader effort being made by Plastic-Free Island: St. John to lower the amount of single-use plastic on island for the protection of people, coastal and ocean life. It’s also part of the effort to reduce single-use plastics from the waste stream as landfill space in the USVI becomes more scarce this decade.

Beginning Jan. 1 and continuing through year-end 2017, the group will encourage restaurants, bars, event planners and other beverage sellers to continue to reduce or phase out drinking straws altogether. By merely not automatically giving them away– and offering paper straws, if requested – local establishments can make a significant dent in this scourge during Centennial Transfer Day Year.

 “In only the past twenty years, people have come to expect plastic straws in every drink, in an example of extreme waste being generated for minimal convenience,” according to The Last Plastic Straw, a Plastic Pollution Coalition initiative. “These short-lived tools are usually dropped into a garbage can with no further thought, instantly becoming a source of plastic pollution.”

 Added PFI: STJ members: “Let’s turn back the tide on needless plastic items that were literally not here when the United States acquired our Virgin Islands back in 1917. Join us by taking the No Straw Pledge and reminding your server – 'No Straw, Please.' You can do without one.”

Governor Signs Bag Ban Bag Bill; Takes Effect Jan. 1, 2017

October proved to be a plastic-free "momentum month" when USVI Gov. Mapp signed legislation eliminating disposable plastic bags from distribution by merchants in the Territory. The new regulation takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Thanks go to so many who helped to advocate, provide testimony, write letters, etc., and to the many Senators and Gov. Mapp for supporting this protective step forward toward plastic-free island life.

More in an excellent article by Judy Shimel at St. John Tradewinds.

Privateer Homeowners Clear Incoming Plastic Debris

On a remote, hard-to-access, seldom-visited section of beach on St. John's east end, a group of Privateer Bay homeowners spent Oct. 1 gathering up and hauling away 250 pounds and 350 gallons of washed-up debris in seven 55-gallon trash bags.

Plastic bottles and caps dominated the haul, which was whisked away in an electric ATV (operated by PFI's own Doug White). A large amount of marine debris, including a refrigerator, was also recovered and removed from this particular stretch of coastline.

As St. John residents and visitors increase their focus on reducing single-use plastics, the scourge of plastic debris arriving on our local shores from elsewhere remains a daunting challenge.

It's why carrying the message of disposable plastic impacts far and wide is so essential. As Rebecca Prince-Ruiz, founder of Plastic Free July, wrote: "The volume of plastic production, the ubiquitous nature of disposable plastic and the habits of modern consumerism mean that the problem is larger than any one organisation or stakeholder."

For more, check out vital info from Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Plastic Grocery Bag Ban Passes Unanimously in U.S. Virgin Islands. Ban movement grows...

A huge leap toward eliminating the negative effects of plastic grocery bags on island and marine life occurred this week when the U.S. Virgin Islands Legislature passed a bill banning these unnecessary bags from the Territory.

The vote was unanimous.

In addition to leadership by the bill's sponsor, Sen. Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly, thanks goes to the Island Green Living Association's energetic stewardship of this effort. Under Island Green's President Harith Wickrema's leadership, the organization helped to develop bill language plus provided testimony for this cause (including our own Doug White, an Island Green founder and officer).

“It is vital to recognize our Governor Kenneth Mapp, who sent to the legislature the three bills including banning plastics bags as well as recycling initiatives, and Sen. Marvin Blyden, who continues to help us in making these bills become a reality," said Wickrema. "Certainly a team effort.”

The movement toward bringing your own bag to the grocery store (best option) and paper-bag alternatives (beats plastic by a mile) has been taking hold all year on St. John.

This includes Starfish Market's wonderful decision to self-ban plastic takeaway bags from their store. And as PFI:STJ's own Erin Leib recently noted, Dolphin Market is incentivizing BYO bags and generously discounting your grocery bill when you do. (Here's hoping Dolphin will go ahead and remove single-use plastic bags from their inventory sooner rather than later.)

Plastic-Free Island: St. John Launched; Working Group Formed

A new collaborative project aimed at public awareness and targeting the elimination of immediate and long-term damage caused by disposable plastics is under way on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Plastic-Free Island: St. John is a new Innovation Project launched under the Plastic-Free Island concept founded by Pam Longobardi (Drifters Project) and Dianna Cohen (Plastic Pollution Coalition). Plastic-Free Island: St. John will work in close coordination with the leadership of the Island Green Living Association (IGLA) of St. John and other local organizations.

To begin immediately focusing on practical methods and new innovations to curb and prevent single-use plastic from harming the sensitive coastal environment and island community on St. John, a nine-person Working Group was created this month to tackle the challenge going forward.

Planning and executing definable, measurable and achievable actions to reduce and diminish harmful disposable plastic is the goal of the PFI: STJ Working Group. It was formed in the wake of an April 15-19 cross-island workshop that assessed the scope of the issue and local enthusiasm and support for addressing it.

While focused solely on the effect of single-use plastics on and around St. John, the effort is intended to complement current sustainability and environmental-protection initiatives already under way within the Territory. These include St. John-based programs led by IGLA as well as Friends of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park, St. John Community Foundation, Coral Bay Community Council, Gifft Hill School and other community-minded organizations.

Among other dimensions, the Working Group plans to immediately champion and support existing and new efforts to curb the volume of single-use plastics currently in use by businesses, consumers, residents, visitors, the marine community and others on St. John.

The announcement in April by Starfish Market to ban plastic bags at its checkout counters is a shining example of a leading local business taking a clear, definable action that benefits the community. Helping local businesses and their customers adapt to and sustain this kind of change is a core component of the Working Group’s focus.

Along with an initial statement of purpose, a list of the new nine-member Working Group and their affiliations follows. Look for additional timely information from the Group and development of strategy and tactics in the coming weeks and months. Taking critical actions and heightening awareness of the Plastic-Free Island movement before, during and after the Centennial Transfer Day 2017 in the Territory are driving forces behind PFI: STJ.

St. John Tradewinds: Plastic Free Island Initiative Taking Root on St. John

Following is an article by Amy Roberts published in the May 2-15 edition of the St. John Tradewinds.

Most visitors to St. John return to the mainland with a bottle of rum, a new tee-shirt, and maybe a sunburn.

Not Pam Longobardi. When she boarded the ferry to go back to Atlanta on April 19, she carried a jumbo-sized duffle bag and a huge box packed full of plastic trash that had washed up on the East End of St. John.

An artist and the founder of the Drifters Project, Longobardi specializes in art pieces made up of found plastic objects that accumulate on beaches around the world. She was invited to St. John, along with artist Dianna Cohen of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, to launch Plastic-Free Islands-St. John.

Over the course of three jam-packed days, Cohen and Longobardi met with members of Island Green Living Association, the Coral Bay Community Council, The Gifft Hill School, the St. John Community Foundation, the Waste Management Authority, Get Trashed, the Friends of the VI National Park, and various stakeholders within the tourism industry.

They are joining together to implement one common goal: to reduce as much as possible the use of plastic, and more specifically to abolish the availability of single-use and disposable plastic objects on the island.

There’s complete readiness — it just takes a catalyst,” said Longobardi, as she passed her re-useable stainless steel cup to a waitress at the Dock who willingly rinsed it and filled it with pineapple juice.

People are so open to us,” said Cohen. This has happened everywhere we’ve gone.”

She gave out stainless steel straws to the bartenders and wait-staff she met on the island.

The two women have much in common. Both studied science in college but gravitated to the arts. They each became passionate advocates for the environment when they learned about the increasing amount of plastic adrift in the ocean. They each launched organizations to increase awareness of the harmful chemicals in plastics which move up the food chain and threaten human and animal life.

Cohen’s organization, Plastic Pollution Coalition, presents the facts: There are over five trillion pieces of plastic a oat in the ocean, weighing more than 269,000 tons.

Current research indicates that if we don’t curb disposable plastic production, by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight thansh in the ocean,” according to the organization’s website.

The problem on St. John is plainly visible to anyone who walks windward-facing beaches. Bright plastic objects catch the eye among the more subtly-colored stones and corals

Americans discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year,” according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and 33 percent of it is products that are used once and thrown away.

The five most common items found in international ocean cleanups are cigarette butts, food wrappers, beverage bottles, bottle caps, and drink stirrers and straws, according to the video Trash Talk” on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website. Eliminating items like these — which were used once and then thrown away — is now the focus of Plastic-Free Islands-St. John.

St. John is way behind the rest of the country when it comes to recycling. In 2013, the Coral Bay Community Council won a $90,000 Solid Waste Planning Management Grant from the Department of Agriculture and in 2015, CBCC produced a report which is posted on the organization’s website.

According to the 2009 Waste Characterization Study, plastic is considered to be 16.1 percent of the waste stream going to the Bovoni Land ll,” according to CBCC’s website. Only organics (32.7 percent) and paper (28.7 percent) were higher. There is no manufacturing or other use for recycled plastic in the Virgin Islands; thus for recycling, all plastics would have to be prepared and shipped off island.”

So far, although several community organizations have tried, no one has come up with a cost-effective plan for recycling plastic. The focus is now shifting to prevention.

The problem is that plastic is not bio-degradable. It breaks down into increasingly smaller particles that can be ingested by the tiniest creatures in the sea, which are then consumed by fish, mammals and birds.

The toxic effects of plastics are still unknown, but the research is pretty scary, explained Cohen.

The chemicals used are linked to obesity, diabetes, lower sexual function, sterility and infertility, breast cancer, brain cancer, prostate cancer, early menses, and feminization among boys,” she said.

Cohen, who started using plastic bags to create two and three-dimensional art pieces 20 years ago, explained how she first became aware of the problem in her Ted Talk entitled Tough Truths about Plastic Pollution.”

After about eight years, some of my pieces started to assure and break into smaller little bits of plastic,” she said. I thought, ‘Great! It’s ephemeral, just like us. Upon educating myself further, I realized it was a bad thing because it’s always still plastic, and a lot of it is in the marine environment.”

Cohen learned about how ocean and wind currents had swirled plastic debris into what is known as the gyre” or the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” She launched a plan to travel to the gyre with trawlers and equipment to collect the trash and convert it into bricks that could be used in unde- veloped countries. But upon learning more, she changed her goal.

I realized that cleaning it up would be a very small drop in the bucket relative to how much was being generated every day,” said Cohen. We need to cut the spigot of single use and disposable plastics which are entering the marine environment every day on a global scale.”

Longobardi’s awareness of the problem was pricked when she spent time in Hawaii in 2006. Beachcombing for coconuts, driftwood and shells to use in her artwork, she found instead mounds of plastic debris.

I felt like I was witnessing a crime scene. I felt like I was getting a message from the sea,” she said.

Longobardi began to use the plastic she collected from around the world in her artwork. One of her more poignant pieces is a chain” of 490 cigarette lighters removed from albatross nests on Midway Island. The mother birds had brought the brightly-colored lighters back to their nests, possibly to feed to their chicks.

Plastic objects are the cultural archeology of our times,” according to her website driftersproject.net. These objects I see as a portrait of global late-capitalist consumer society, mirroring our desires, wishes, hubris and ingenuity. These are objects with unintended consequences that become transformed as they leave the quotidian world and collide with nature to be transformed, transported and regurgitated out of the shifting oceans....The plastic elements initially seem attractive and innocuous, like toys.... At first, the plastic seems innocent and fun, but it is not. It is dangerous.”

Longobardi, who teaches at Georgia State University, collaborated with the school, the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and the Center for Disease Control to present a symposium in Atlanta in March 2015 entitled The Plastic Gyre.” In addition to bringing together scientists, artists and activists, the event included an exhibition at the CDC’s museum of artwork to highlight the immensity of the plastic pollution problem.

It was at this event that Ken Haldin and Anne Ostrenko, part-time residents of St. John, met Longobardi and Cohen. The goal of Plastic-Free Islands is to create a model that is exportable and customizable,” according to Haldin, and they immediately thought about what could be done on St. John.

Haldin had become involved with the Island Green Living Association in 2013 and helped identify a company in Atlanta to purchase the aluminum cans collected by community organizations for recycling.

When Cohen and Longobardi found an opening in their schedules to visit the island, Haldin approached Doug White, one of IGLA’s founders, whose response was, How can we help?”

Together they put together a busy 72-hour agenda to meet the island’s stakeholders in the recycling movement.

They spoke with Erin Lieb and Tonia Lovejoy who started Get Trashed, a group of volunteers who pick up trash around St. John every month. They met with students at the Gifft Hill School, and with the crews of Kekoa and Cloud 9 Sailing Adventures which use metal cups and glass bottles instead of plastic bottles and cups.

It’s not that we’re anti-plastic,” said Haldin, who does public affairs work with corporate and non-profit clients. Plastic has great value. We’re against ‘fugitive plastic’ — the straw that got away.’”

He and Ostrenko, a writer and video producer, have been visiting St. John for 27 years and own a condo at Lavender Hill and land in Coral Bay. They have the perfect skill set to bring together a working group that can focus on the enormous task ahead of them.

The first task at hand is eliminating the use of plastic straws that wash back up on the beaches. Paper straws are now available, thanks to an increase in demand.

It’s about packaging, not products,” said Haldin. We don’t want to disrupt the local merchants. Everyone we’ve met has said, ‘Keep going; let’s stay in touch.’”