The St. Croix Environmental Association (S.E.A.) strongly opposes the Governor’s requirement that restaurants use only disposable food service items. We believe this is an empty gesture that does not actually provide additional sanitation. Requiring disposable products will add to the territory’s already overburdened landfills, placing a significant burden on the VI Waste Management Authority and adds yet another challenge to the restaurant industry that is already suffering major economic losses from COVID.
We want to avoid adding more waste to the already overburdened landfill. As many know, the landfill has been scheduled to close for over a decade and continuously threatens our safety and health through uncontrolled fires and environmental contamination – not to mention threats to the height restrictions set by the FAA. An estimated 92% of plastic is not recycled – that means it will sit in our landfills for hundreds of years, causing more air, water, and ocean pollution.
Further, the Government of the Virgin Islands has acknowledged the impact of the plastics on the environment by outlawing plastic bags and straws. The disposables policy flies in the face of that commitment to the environment. New plastic waste contributes at least eight million tons of pollution to our oceans very year, and makes up 80% of all marine debris from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. We absolutely want to avoid contributing more waste to our Caribbean Sea, which we rely upon for tourism, food, and jobs.
The VI government needs to consider not only the detriment to the environment but also the cost to our small businesses. Restaurants have a very thin profit margin under normal conditions. After having to close or offer very limited service for several months, a number have closed permanently and most are struggling to make ends meet. Adding the expense of disposables may prove to be the final blow to these businesses that are an important aspect of our economy. In St. Croix especially, restaurants are also a key part of our tourist product because the island is known as a foodie destination.
Restaurants are already in the business of sanitation. Indeed, the V.I. Department of Health requires restaurants to use a three-step process for washing dishes. This process, which includes a hot soapy wash, water rinse and a chemical sanitizer, is more than sufficient to kill the Coronavirus. If this process was not effective, we would see the spread of other diseases such as dysentery and salmonella.
We need to follow sound, scientific advice and not knee-jerk reactions, especially those that directly contradict current policies to reduce plastic waste in the VI. The CDC recommends as an alternative to the use of disposables: “[i]f disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water, or in a dishwasher.” As applied to the VI, the three-step process required at a minimum by the V.I. Department of Health already exceeds this recommendation.
SEA believes that requiring disposables for restaurants – who are already complying with the DOH’s higher and stricter sanitation measures than the CDC’s bare minimum – will further harm our oceans, landfills, natural environment, and small businesses, and we urge Governor Bryan to reconsider this requirement.