AT 6:15 a.m. last Saturday (Earth Day) April 22, fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of the clean-up, the first volunteer walked up briskly to the exterior of the Castries stand of the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground eager to slap on his gloves and get to work.
I told him he was the first to arrive and we had to wait for the others, but he wore his disappointment with a huge grin. Then right on time at 6:30 a.m., Jim Joseph, the President of the Beausejour Community Group, showed up to pick up supplies for his crew that would tackle the main Beausejour road.
Shortly afterwards, the first pick-up truck filled with volunteers and led by Keith Noel, the Vice-President of the Beausejour Community Group, rolled up, scooped up the supplies and set off for the Caye Mange road.
I am told by Joseph that the group conducted many projects in the community such as de-clogging drains and clearing brush along the road way but an official clean-up had yet to be organized.
Over the next half hour, small groups arrived from the Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), Lion’s Club of Castries and several of my friends — a total of forty persons. Together they cleared twenty-five six-foot -high garbage bags from along three major roads leading to the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground: Beausejour Road, Bella Rosa Road and the Caye Mange Road, as well as the perimeter road of the grounds.
The clean-up and environmental education event was targeted at residents in communities surrounding the Daren Sammy Cricket Ground. The reason that this area was chosen was that I am a resident of Bonne Terre and frequently use the area for recreational purposes as do many persons in the surrounding communities.
There is a large volume of plastic waste along all the roadways leading to Beausejour. Plastic and garbage along the roadside is of course not confined to the Beausejour area but a clean-up effort was to highlight the national problem we have with plastic waste. We must recognize the scale of our garbage problem and that ignoring it is detrimental to our health, the health of our children and our quality of life. Plastics leak toxins into the food supply, into the soil, our seas and rivers, and they can eventually end up in our bodies.
People who volunteer for activities such as clean-ups already have a level of environmental awareness and are motivated to take action. The volunteers’ willingness to engage in solving a problem they did not create is an inspiring reminder that as St. Lucians we need to engage problems together even when they do not directly affect us. The volunteers of the Earth Day clean-up had the courage to act upon their convictions in the service of others and towards the greater good.
One of the main objectives of the event was to encourage them to do even more. This was achieved through the educational component of the event which was done in collaboration with the St. Lucia Solid Waste Management Authority.
Mr. Casian Henry gave a fascinating presentation on composting and several attendees signed up to be involved in a pilot composting project under Henry’s guidance. I also demonstrated an upcycling idea where wine bottles can be cut and turned into drinking or wine glasses.
More clean-ups are important to help tackle the existing plastic and garbage problem but they ultimately cannot solve the problem. We use too much plastic and we put green waste into the landfill when we have a better solution to compost it at home.
According to the St Lucia Solid Waste Management Authority, organic waste makes up over fifty percent of the garbage collected. If we do not change our habits, we are going to run out of space to put it and we’ll be dealing with a whole lot of ugly, toxic plastic and garbage in our beautiful St. Lucia.
Some people may have never participated in a clean-up, or may think the problem is too big or that garbage is not their responsibility. The reality, though, is that we are too small a country to think that we can hide from any of our problems because sooner or later they affect us personally as we are interconnected and interdependent through our familiar and social relationships.
When we pass through and litter other people’s communities or our own communities, make no mistake that the message we send to each other and to ourselves is one of worthlessness in which our land, our children, our health is not valuable enough to care for and protect. Littering is a deliberate act, it’s a choice and therefore we can change and make the choice to stop this shameful habit of defacing our own country. I’m an optimist and a very proud St. Lucian. We are so much better than this, we’re letting ourselves and our children down by becoming accustomed to this as just the way things are and by believing falsely that things will never change. Our beliefs and intentions for a cleaner, greener future is the first step in making those aspirations a reality.
Most of the individuals who participated in the clean-up I had only met in person that day as most of our contact had been over the phone, via emails or on social media. Nevertheless, our collective goodwill brought us together for a worthwhile purpose. At the start of this year, I created a Facebook group to raise awareness on environmental issues that I cared about and to inspire people to make simple changes in their lives to reduce the negative impact of plastics, in particular, on our environment.
The Facebook group is called Lady De Vere and Friends. Lady De Vere is my chosen eco-warrior name, De Vere being my paternal grandmother’s middle name, and I have chosen it to represent all things green and natural. Although I had never organized anything of this nature before, I am very pleased with the outcome and responsiveness and enthusiasm of all parties involved.
I am deeply grateful to the sponsors and partners of this event for taking a leap of faith on a novice organizer and supporting this effort towards a cleaner, greener St Lucia: Sports St. Lucia Inc., Gaston and Sons, Tropical Shipping Ltd, St. Lucia National Trust, St. Lucia Solid Waste Management Authority and FLOW.
There is so much work to be done with respect to the impact of plastic over-consumption and poor disposal, but activities like the Earth Day clean-up show that so much can be achieved through the power of community.