All posts by Neoshie Giles

Plastic-Free Island: St. John

Plastic-Free Island: St. John

Launches to Target Harmful Disposable Plastic

Working Group Formed; Support for Starfish Market Voiced

June 5, 2016 — 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.

Plastic-Free Island: St. John Working Group [Alphabetical list + Affiliations]
  • Dianna Cohen, Plastic Pollution Coalition; Plastic-Free Island
  • Ken Haldin, Convener of PFI: St John; part-time STJ resident
  • Celia Kalousek, St. John Community Foundation
  • Erin Lieb, Get Trashed (coastal cleanup organization)
  • Pam Longobardi, Georgia State University; Drifters Project; Plastic-Free Island
  • Tonia Lovejoy, Get Trashed (coastal cleanup organization); Beautiful Nation Project
  • Anne Ostrenko, Ostrenko Communications; part-time STJ resident
  • Mary Vargo, Gifft Hill School
  • Doug White, Island Green Living Assn. of St. John, USVI
Statement from the Plastic-Free Island: St. John Working Group:

“We are a group of local residents, visitors, educators, artists, conservationists, activists, National Park enthusiasts, lovers of St. John and local organization members who have determined that, together, we can help make single-use plastic decline and eventually disappear from St. John.

“Too much single-use plastic does irreparable harm to the USVI coastal environment and its economy. Doing something today to curb the use and flow of these unnecessary disposables tomorrow will help to build a healthier, more vibrant economy and island community, both before and after Transfer Day 2017.

“We are proud to be connected with and indebted to the Plastic-Free Island movement, which is creating an exportable template for protecting precious island locations from disposable plastic intrusion. We are also pleased to work in close coordination with the leadership of St. John’s Island Green Living Association and connect with other local organizations that share a desire to proactively protect the island community and its future health.

“Plastic-Free Island: St. John is meant to lift up and focus on new and innovative steps we can take — sometimes small, perhaps eventually dramatic — to make a difference in one essential dimension: reducing and eliminating single-use disposable plastic. We look forward to forging an array of definable, measurable and achievable actions and collaborating with others to make them happen on St. John.”

About Starfish Market’s Plastic Bag Ban:

“We wholeheartedly support Starfish Market’s manager Nedra Ephraim for making the bold ecoconscious decision to eliminate disposable plastic bags from the Market. Along with other businesses who have initiated positive change on St. John previously, this decision shows brilliant leadership to take a stance and act upon reducing the known damaging effects of disposable plastic bags in the environment and protection of the vibrant sea life of St. John. The transition to a bring your-own-bag routine may require a small change in behavior for customers and cause inconvenience in the short run. But a new, more sustainable habit will replace the plastic habit, and St. John will reap untold benefits in the future.”

Not For Profit: Island Green Living Association Introduces New Vision

IGLA Kicks Off 2016 With New High Profile Board of Directors, Ambitious Plans

Armed with a new board that includes top brass from the corporate world and academia, Island Green Living Association (IGLA) has conceived a comprehensive strategic plan that combats the significant environmental issues endangering the U.S. Virgin Islands. Key among the tactics are education and engagement initiatives, which include a hands-on Island Green Living/Sustainability curriculum in partnership with the V.I. Department of Education. Fundamental to IGLA’s mission are the four R’s: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

“The U.S.V.I. faces major environmental challenges including the impending closure of overflowing landfills in 2020, toxic storm water run-off, high energy costs and lack of viable recycling options,” said Harith Wickrema, the new president of IGLA. “The way we live plays a major role in the devastation, but most people don’t understand their impact. It is our belief that with awareness, education and community engagement along with the support of government, we can fight this battle together. Preservation of the territory is vital to our health and wellbeing as well as to tourism, the lifeblood of our economy.”

In addition to assuming the role of vice chairman of the VI Waste Management Authority (VIWMA), Wickrema was elected the new president of IGLA in January. He has been dedicated to preservation and green issues his entire career, most notably developing the sustainable event management curriculum at Temple University School of Tourism and Hospitality Management. He is a trailblazer in the event management industry, championing recognition of sustainability and green events while president of Harith Productions Ltd., a 25+ year global corporate communication and event production company.

While traveling for business, he fell in love with St. John and conceived Eco Serendib Villa and Spa, an eco-luxury retreat on St. John where he now makes his home. For each night that the villa is rented, a donation is made to Friends of VI National Park and IGLA for restoration and recycling efforts on St. John.

Other board officers include:

Doug White, vice president — White is a licensed architect in the Virgin Islands since 1982 as well as a co-founder and past president of IGLA.

Rob Crane, treasurer — Crane is a licensed architect in Washington D.C., Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands, and he is past president of IGLA.

Akhil Deshwal, secretary — Deshwal is managing director at Gallows Point Resort and president of Ocean 362, the restaurant at Gallows Point.

Board members:

Dr. Laurie Bottiger, head of school, Gifft Hills School, St. John

Jim Dobrowolski, founder and CEO of U.S. Facilities Inc., owner of Dr. Cool, a leading mechanical services provider in the U.S.V.I.

Dr. David Hall, president, University of Virgin Islands

Christie O’Neil, broker, Holiday Homes of St. John Inc.

Dr. Gary Ray, restoration ecologist and co-founding member of IGLA

Susan Parten, licensed civil engineer and owner/manager of Community Environmental Services Inc.

Randy Thurman, past CEO of major global corporations including VIASYS & Corning Life Sciences, Rhone Poulenc Rorer, etc.

Karen Vahling, director of development, Friends of Virgin Islands National Park

Further details on IGLA’s plans are forthcoming.

**IGLA’s Green Movie Series offers free family-friendly movie nights when films on green issues are featured, and there is a pot luck dinner. They movie nights are open to the public and will take place at 6 p.m. in the Great Room of Lower Gifft Hill School Campus on the following evenings:
March 17: “Cowspiracy”
April 14: “Racing Extinction”
May 12: “Forks Over Knives”