Government officials held a public meeting in District One to discuss issues at the Pockwood Pond incinerator. This newspaper was not invited to the meeting, but the government issued a press release afterwards stating that they unveiled a “three-stage strategy” to deal with ongoing trash issues. (Photo: GIS)

In a recent community meeting in District One, the Department of Waste Management unveiled a “three-stage strategy” aimed at addressing the landfill fires and other urgent trash problems facing the Virgin Islands, according to a government press release issued Monday.

The plan — which has not been published — includes a few initiatives apparently lifted from the draft National Waste Management Strategy, a much more comprehensive document that was circulated for consultations in 2021 but never officially adopted.

But the press release about the recent meeting — to which this newspaper was not invited — did not mention that broader strategy or provide an update on it.

Instead, acting DWM Manager Neville Allen presented short-term, mid-term and long-term initiatives he said would help manage waste in the territory, the release stated.

In the short term

As part of the short-term solutions, the department intends to bury all incoming waste at the Pockwood Pond landfill on a daily basis, according to the press release.

To minimise the risk of spontaneous fires, a minimum of six inches of compacted soil will be used to cover the trash.

In addition, security measures will be enhanced by installing surveillance cameras at the entrance of the facility to deter unauthorised access, which has been a common cause of fires resulting from people seeking copper and other valuable metals, government stated.

To ensure round-the-clock protection, security personnel will be stationed at the site between 4 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day.

Additionally, efforts will be made to increase waste separation and recycling through educational programmes and the establishment of recyclable drop-off areas, thereby reducing the amount of waste reaching the dumpsite, the release stated.

Medium term

In the medium term, the department still plans to repair the existing incinerator, which has been non-functional since it was damaged in a fire in February 2022.

The needed work includes procuring and installing a new control panel, ash conveyor, rams, and exhaust fans required to restore the functionality of the system, according to the release.

These essential components have already been ordered and are expected to arrive “in the coming months,” Mr. Allen said.

The department will also hire a contracting company to repair the incinerator roof and make the necessary electrical connections for the new control panel, the release stated. The repairs are expected to be completed within the next eight to 12 months, it added.

This is a lengthy extension of previous deadlines. Shortly after the February 2022 fire knocked the incinerator offline, then-Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone predicted that repairs would take around two to four months. The DWM later upped that estimate to seven months, a target that passed last September.

Plastic ban

The final stage of the newly announced waste strategy involves implementing a ban on single-use plastic containers and introducing a refund system for glass and aluminum containers, according to government.

This measure is designed to extract recyclable materials from the waste stream and reduce litter.

Drafting instructions for the ban and refund system are currently being prepared and are anticipated to be finalised by the end of July, according to the release.

The ban and refund system were previously approved by Cabinet in 2018, but they have been long delayed without explanation.

Also during the District One meeting, Health and Social Development Minister Vincent Wheatley, DWM Assistant Manager Anselm Myers, and members of Green VI joined Mr. Allen in discussing the department’s initiatives, according to the press release.