By Alexa Christopherson

The mass amount of plastic consumption followed by waste pollution is an issue that deserves a lot more attention. When I first heard I was going to the US Virgin Islands I never knew that the streets of this island were littered with plastic waste. While enjoying my first day I noticed that many of the commercial spots were kept clean by its staff, but as soon as you get to the local areas this is a different story. I knew that because of my short stay, there was no way I could prevent this issue all together, but after thinking about how I can even make the smallest impact, I dedicated some time out of almost every day to clean different public areas of the island from litter.

It may be apparent that all this trash pollution could not have solely come from people.  During September 2017 the US Virgin Islands were flooded by two category 5 hurricanes, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. On September 7 2017, the island of St Thomas (home of the largest population and the capital) was hit with winds ranging up to about 178 mph from the category five Hurricane Irma. Not even two weeks later, the islands were hit again by Hurricane Maria. Thankfully the wind speeds of hurricane Maria ranged only up to about half of the wind speeds of Irma. Both of these immense storms left significantly large debris and damage to the homes of 104,308 people, and sadly they are still in a period of recovery.

St Thomas: 10 Reasons to Go | TropixTraveler
Before Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Irma | Charity Choices
Effects of Hurricane Irma

I began my trip cleaning up the litter from the sides of the road. Did you know that together, motorists and pedestrians contribute roughly 70% of the litter on the road? At first glance most streets don’t look over piled with trash but by looking a little deeper into the forest near the roads you’ll find piles of litter mainly composed of plastic. By the end of day one I had collected enough trash to fill about half of the trunk of a pick up truck.

Cleaning up in the Virgin Islands

When researching the most littered locations in St. Thomas not many exact locations came up. This obligated me to figure out for myself where I could make the most impact. It then became apparent that the most popular beach would be the most trash polluted. The beach most advertised to tourists was Coki Beach so me and my family hopped in a cab and headed to our second location where I would hope to make an impact. As soon as we had arrived it sadly became obvious that my observations were correct, and this was one of the most littered beaches on the island. For hours I swept up and down the beach carrying trash bags and filling them up one piece of trash at a time. What is devastating about this is that 80% of the marine debris on beaches come from trash, packaging, and improperly disposed waste. Meaning that if I hadn’t done my part, all the trash I had collected would have instead gone into the ocean and eventually would’ve made its way to our sea creatures. While cleaning the beaches and streets made a big impact, I was curious to learn if this monster of trash and litter pollution had been carried out all the way to the farms and outskirts of the island. Even in the deepest outskirts and unpopulated areas of the island, litter was still a huge factor. 

Cleaning up in the Virgin Islands

How You Can Help

The easiest way to aid this troublesome issue is to limit your consumption of plastic and non-degradable items including plastics, polystyrene, metals, aluminum cans, toxic chemicals, paints, tires, etc. If you find yourself in the situation of using any of these items please dispose of them safely and appropriately to save the environment. 

Donate to Charities

Official Recovery Site: Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI). To help those affected by the hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands (CFVI) has established a Fund for the Virgin Islands. 100% of your donation will benefit those in crisis. CFVI is a nonprofit organization that has been operating in the USVI for more than 25 years.