Premier's Office
Release Date:
Thursday, 8 June 2023 - 10:36am





1:00 P.M.


Greetings to all who call The Virgin Islands home! Today, June 5, in honour of World Environment Day, I’d like to level with you about a serious addiction that is plaguing The Virgin Islands, affecting not just our environment but our health as a people. It’s our addiction to plastics. Just how bad is it?

  • 22% of our waste is plastics – that’s about 1 out of every 5 items that we burn at Pockwood Pond, and  
  • 60% of what currently ends up in the recycling bins is plastic water bottles

Let that sink in for a moment!

In addition to the plastics that end up in our formal waste management stream, tonnes of plastic end up littered in our environment where it is not only unsightly but harmful to land and ocean life and ultimately our own health and enjoyment of the environment. When last were you able to go for a walk or a drive without passing by several plastic bottles, cups, plates, folks, bags and the sort littering the street side and tucked between the bushes? When last were you able to relax at the beach without being surrounded by plastic waste? 

We are not alone. Our addiction is part of a global addiction that is so severe that the theme for World Environment Day 2023 is Beat Plastic Pollution. Here are a few interesting facts from the United Nations to appreciate the scale of the global crisis. More information can be found on the World Environment Day website.

  1. Around the world, one million plastic bottles are purchased every minute, while up to five trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year. In total, half of all plastic produced is designed for single-use purposes – used just once and then thrown away.
  2. Plastics, including microplastics, are now ubiquitous in our natural environment.
  3. Approximately 36% of all plastics produced are used in packaging, including single-use plastic products for food and beverage containers, approximately 85% of which ends up in landfills or as unregulated waste.
  4. It is estimated that 75 to 199 million tonnes of plastic are currently found in our oceans.

Those facts shouldn’t make us feel any better about ourselves, just more resolved to rise to the challenge and do our part to Beat Plastic Pollution!

And why should you care? Here are just a few reasons:

  1. Our economy depends on it. Beating plastic pollution is key if we are going to maintain and improve our tourism product. No tourist wants to come to our shores to vacation in our garbage. Word travels fast and tourists have options. If we continue to trash Nature’s Little Secrets, tourists will choice to spend their time and money in cleaner destinations.  
  2. Our environment depends on it. Plastic waste can persist in the environment for centuries. Most plastic items never really disappear; they just break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics, which we can’t easily see, but which are very harmful to our environment and ultimately to plant and animal life and to us.
  3. Our health depends on it. Did you know that we can inhale and absorb microplastics from the environment? And, there is an even more direct path. Scientists have found microplastics in bottled water, including the leading brands that we import and drink here in The Virgin Islands. Microplastics accumulate in our organs and have been found in human lungs, livers, spleens and kidneys. A recent study even detected microplastics in the placentas of newborn babies. Scientists are still exploring and understanding the full extent of the impact of microplastics on our health.

Additionally, plastic waste, especially single-use plastic bags, can contribute to flooding by clogging public drains. Plastic waste in the environment also serves as an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes, helping to fuel outbreaks of dengue and other vector-borne diseases.

  1. Finally, our climate security depends on it. The Virgin Islands is among the countries on the frontlines of climate change. Our devastating experience with Hurricane Irma was just one symptom. What’s the plastics connection? By 2040, 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change will be from the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics.

I want to be clear that we can’t recycle our way out of this addiction. Of the 7 billion tonnes of plastic waste generated globally so far, less than 10% has been recycled. We fundamentally have to change our relationship with plastics. We must break our addiction to plastics and learn to only use it when we have to and when we do, to manage our plastic waste responsibly.

The Government will lead and lead by example.

  • In the last two weeks, in partnership with Green VI, the Ministry of Health and Social Development has made significant strides in getting the Ban of Single Use Plastic and Deposit Refund Container Bill further along in the drafting process. There has been substantial effort by many persons over the years to get us to this stage and I look forward to being able to pass the Bill soon.
  • In the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing advancing our Green Pledge programme with my environment team, including strengthening our partnership with Green VI and others on this. Under my leadership, every Government agency will be charged to make a Green Pledge this year. While the details may vary agency to agency, some of the big goals will be eliminating plastic bottles, reducing paper use and reducing energy.
  • In addition to this, Government will support the budding Green and Circular Economy in The Virgin Islands by finding ways to support entrepreneurs, especially young entrepreneurs, who are interested in turning our trash into treasure by making valuable products from our plastic and other waste streams.

Addiction is a personal thing. So, while the Government must lead and do its part, and while we have non-government organizations doing a great job in this space, we can only win if you do your part too. So, let’s make a pledge together!

Starting today, I’m challenging everyone to take 5 simple actions to break your plastic addiction:

  1. If you rely on plastic bottles at work, lobby for a water cooler instead!  If you rely on plastic bottles at home, try going back to the good old days of boiling your cistern water! It is quick, easy and cheap - all you need is 5 minutes, a kettle and a jar for cooling. If you wish, you can also invest in a water filter to help purify the water before boiling. If anyone is concerned about the safety of their cistern water, the Environmental Health Division can give you guidance. Boiling your drinking water will not only save you money and the hassle of lugging water from the store, but I’ll let you in on an old-time secret - it tastes much better too! It is also better for your health.  
  2. Invest in a reusable water bottle and refill it from your boiled water at home or cooler at work!
  3. Invest a few dollars in reusable shopping bags instead of using single use plastic bags from the grocery store!
  4. Tell the owner of your favourite bars and restaurants to make the switch from plastic or Styrofoam containers to biodegradable options.
  5. Rinse and separate plastics from your other waste and dispose them at your nearest recycling bin. This act alone will help to divert 22% of our waste that would otherwise end up at Pockwood Pond or in the environment. Instead, that plastic can fed into local businesses like VI Plastics that is making polywood from locally recycled plastics. I’m proud to say that the Ministry responsible for Natural Resources recently purchased some of that polywood for signage at Long Bay, Beef Island.

Our addiction to plastics is but one of numerous burning environmental challenges in The Virgin Islands that are threatening to destroy the very base of our tourism economy, envious lifestyle and security. As Premier, I look forward to sparking an Environmental Revolution in The Virgin Islands over the next 4 years! This is the first of many speeches I’ll be making on the environment, so stay tuned. I’ll soon be coming back to you to outline this Environmental Revolution and how you can be a part of it!


Happy World Environment Day – let’s beat plastic pollution together!