Karl Callwood and Jason Budsan testify at the plastic ban hearing on Friday, October 24.
Senator at Large Craig Barshinger, at left, listens as V.I. Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment co-chair Sen. Clarence Payne addresses testifiers at a hearing on a bill to ban disposable shopping bags in the territory.
CRUZ BAY — Two Virgin Islanders who are focused on the environment were the only audience members and testifiers at a V.I. Senate hearing on a proposed measure to prohibit U.S. Virgin Island businesses “from providing customers with plastic bags to carry items purchased” at an Friday afternoon, October 24, hearing at the Cruz Bay Legislature Annex.
The testifiers had strong support from the Senate committee members present — and one, Senator Samuel Sanes, made an historic appearance at the hearing via the Skype internet program.
Jason Budsan, president of the V.I. Conservation Society and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, and EAST member, environmental activist, diver and videographer Karl Callwood testified in support of Senate Bill No. 30-0387 Plastic Bag Ban of 2014 sponsored by Senators Shawn Michael Malone Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly.
GHS Program Supported Legislation
The legislation also has been championed by students from The Gifft Hill School on St. John, and Dr. David Minner, EARTH (Education And Resiliency Through Horticulture) Program Outreach Coordinator at Gifft Hill School submitted written testimony in support of the legislation to ban disposable plastic shopping bags.
“Our second EARTH program goal relating to place-based environmental science is closely aligned with the proposed bill that targets pollution and endangerment of marine life by contamination with plastic carry-out bags.”
“We feel that all stores should discontinue use of this type of plastic bag as a fair approach to solving this problem,” Dr. Minner continued. “There are ample types of alternative bags that are of superior quality and can be reused, bags that don’t require double-bagging which further multiplies the burden on the environment.”
As part of the “recycling initiative” Gifft Hill School students, “EARTH and Gifft Hill School ECO-Club wrote and performed a play on the importance of reducing ‘plastic carryout bags’ that was performed for the Virgin Islands Senate and broadcast across the territory,” the GHS educator reminded the senators.
Shopping Bags Saturate Environment
“Single-use, disposable plastic shopping bags are saturating our environment and killing our wildlife,” testified Callwood. “I am out there (on and in the water) every day and witness the damage these bags do. The saddest thing is to see a coral smothered in a plastic bag.”
“If you could see what I see you would be embarrassed for the islands,” Callwood added. “Fortunately, we know how to fix the problem: Stop using disposable plastic shopping bags.”
“There has been such an outcry,” Budsan added. “If we don’t deal with the environment we have a lot to lose.”
“We’ve lived without them, we can live without them again,” Callwood added of the ubiquitous plastic bags now used in most retail stores. “It’s a passionate issue.”
“We don’t want single use plastic bags in the territory,” Budsan asserted.
Sen. Sanes in Historic Skype Participation
Committee member Sen. Samuel Sanes appeared at the hearing from St. Croix via the Skype internet video calling system in the afternoon session, the first Skype appearance by a senator at a V.I. Senate hearing, after the historic morning session which saw the first electronic appearance by a testifier.
Sen. Sanes said he was concerned about the impact of the legislation on “mom and pop stores,” and the testifiers in support of the bill shared with his concerns.
Budsan supported an amendment to the bill as proposed to “set it up so the business owner is compensated for doing the right thing instead of paying to do the right thing,” the environmentalist explained in extensive written comments on the legislation.
Compensation for Business Owners
“We recommend a charge at checkout of five (5) cents per bag for purchases under $20, and that a multi-use bag be provided at no cost to the consumer with purchases over $20 to encourage the public’s acceptance of the stricter no-single-use rule to follow,” Budsan testified. “In summary, we support a ban on any type of single-use bag or any material.”
“We advocate for incentives directed at consumers as well as penalties for retailers to ensure the general use of multi-use bags,” the environmentalist added. “This is the only way to permanently reduce the pressure on the waste stream WMA deals with and to minimize or eliminate the detrimental environmental effects and unsightly litter single-use bags of any type will produce.”
“Emotionally you have totally convinced me,” Sen. Barshinger said in response to Budsan’s testimony. “(The key) is getting enough amendments in here to avoid creating a monster. I’d like to hear from more businesses.”
“Members of the Hotel Association are strong supporters,” Budsan told the committee. “We’ve got to move from doing harmful effects to the environment; I’m urging the committee to move this forward — it has to move to rules (the Senate Rules Committee) to get this done,” Budsan urged the committee members. “There is only one shot at this.”
“It might look small today, but it could be a nightmare tomorrow,” said committee vice chairman Sen. Clarence Payne who spoke of the “loss of whelks and white star fish” in the territory’s waters and other damage due to environmental impacts.