In Coxheath, just west of the incinerator at Pockwood Pond, a mountain of trash  looms in front of the green hills.

The “debris management hub” was originally intended to be a temporary disposal site for wreckage from the two recent hurricanes — like wood, galvanised roofing and large electrical goods — but it soon became a dumpsite for all kinds of garbage, including car parts, household trash and other debris.

“Obviously the waste that has come to the site has been commingled: There are a lot of items that probably shouldn’t have been there,” said Greg Massicote, manager of the Department of Waste Management. “I mean, it’s natural for it to be a little contaminated [by people dumping other types of waste].”

After Irma, DWM employees and private recyclers have had to grapple with an unprecedented volume of trash — and to establish the best ways to properly collect, manage and, in some cases, export, that debris.

On Tortola, most residential trash is still being transported to the incinerator. Another debris hub at Paraquita Bay, set up after the hurricane, was closed in late October due to “technical issues,” Mr. Massicote said.

He added that even after the official closing, physical barriers had to be erected last week to deter residents who were still dumping at the site.

On Virgin Gorda, private recyclers have been working to divert as much waste (including metals, glass and plastic) as possible from the dump.

But there are still glaring reminders of the challenge at hand. The growing pile of garbage at Coxheath, for one, hasn’t moved an inch.

“Nothing has been transported,” Mr. Massicote said. “The plan for that site is to export as much of the debris as possible over the next couple months.”

Kausina Energy

The company selected to help manage and export those debris, Mr. Massicote confirmed, is Kausina Energy, an international firm that deals with waste conversion, solar energy and environmental engineering, according to its website. The site also states that Kausina has an office in the territory.

The company was chosen a few weeks ago, Mr. Massicote added, and Kausina representatives have been assessing various waste sites and other “hard-to-reach debris” throughout the territory since that time.

Mr. Massicote said he hopes that a formal plan for how Kausina will execute the assessment and removal of debris will “be in hand” by the end of this week, but until then he could not give further details about the agreement.

Allen Wheatley, who is listed as the general manager of Kausina on its website, said on Monday that “nothing is confirmed” and he was not yet at liberty to discuss specifics.

Recycling in the territory

Until details about the agreement are made public, it remains unclear how the work of local recyclers and environmental groups will be impacted.

Charlotte McDevitt, executive director of the non-profit Green VI, said her organisation has continued to partner with for-profit recyclers on Virgin Gorda and the DWM after the hurricanes.

“Post Irma, we’re dealing with debris first,” she said. “And we’re slowly starting to get the recycling back on track. The benefit [of the storm] that could be happening is that we could be expanding this kind of work.”

Shortly before Irma, Green VI procured equipment for a recycling pilot on VG, which survived the hurricanes. Recyclers have lease-to-purchase agreements with the non-profit organisation and are now able to use that equipment, including a large baler.

And Julie Swartz, founder of the recycling business Green & Clean VI, is putting that baler and other tools to good use at a “materials reclamation facility” in Handsome Bay.

Her organisation has been collecting large amounts of glass and metal (which now include unwieldy storm debris like refrigerators, aluminium from solar panels, storm shutters, door frames and so on), then sorting each piece by type, cutting them down and preparing some for the baler to compact.

Recyclables they process will be shipped off to a recycler in Florida, Ms. Swartz said.

Waste as a resource

Both before and after Irma, Green & Clean VI has managed to divert 97 percent of all the waste streams it handles away from the landfill — while now employing between 10 to 18 people in the scrap yard and picking up recyclables around the island.

Glass is being chipped down into aggregate that can be used for road pavement, reclaimed cement and other projects (one being a new bartop at Jumbies Beach Bar in North Sound).

“It’s all about turning trash into treasure and finding its next life,” Ms. Swartz said. “And making sure its next life isn’t at the top of the mountain as waste.”

A fair amount of plastic, another sizable waste stream, is also sent over for recycling to VI Plastics, founded by Carrie Wright. 

But recyclers in the territory maintain that the industry is not a profitable one. Many hope merely to break even.

“None of this is cost effective. This is what the fallacy is about recycling, you know, that there’s money to be made in it,” Ms. McDevitt said. “But the bigger picture needs to be looked at here — providing local jobs and managing waste as a resource.”

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 14, 2017 Beacon print edition.