Volunteers collected nearly 1900 pounds of trash during a clean-up at Mullet Bay Beach in April. Only a month before that, 1470 pounds/660 kilograms of litter were gathered at the exact same location during the March clean-up. In total, over 3,270 pounds/1,483 kilograms of trash were collected during this two-month period. The Nature Foundation reminds residents to please show love for our island and community by holding onto trash until they can throw it away in an appropriate trash receptacle. In addition to diminishing the beauty of our beaches, litter can be a human health hazard and threaten marine life, such as sea turtles, who are currently in nesting and hatching season on St. Maarten.
The Nature Foundation is grateful for the assistance of residents and volunteers from CC1 St. Maarten and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) for the cleanup in May. Volunteers used reusable burlap sacks provided by the Nature Foundation to hold trash. Each bag was weighed, recorded, and placed in a nearby dumpster to be removed. Among the debris found were face masks, beer caps, plastic cups, straws and bottles — common items to see on a beach. While Mullet Bay Beach has well over a dozen trash receptacles around the vegetation line, volunteers regularly find the area littered with debris.
Mullet Bay is a popular site for parties and other social gatherings, leaving behind a large mess created by both residents and visitors. Researchers and psychologists believe that individuals are more inclined to litter in areas that are already soiled. This reasoning may explain why Mullet Bay generally has more trash despite the many trash cans. When an area appears pristine and clear of debris, people are less likely to be the ones to spoil it by littering. A community effort is necessary to combat the hundreds of pounds of trash that pile up on Mullet Bay and other beaches each day.
The Nature Foundation advocates for a massive cultural shift on St. Maarten regarding trash disposal. Unless it becomes socially unacceptable to throw food containers out a moving car window or abandon plastic water bottles on the beach, littering will continue. The Nature Foundation has provided resources to encourage reducing and reusing single-use plastics on the island to cut down on litter. However, the most critical component in changing the littering culture on St. Maarten starts at home and within the community.
How can you help? The Nature Foundation encourages that individuals, especially adults and parental figures, do the following to set positive examples for the next generation:
- Refuse to litter. Carry a garbage bag or burlap sack in the car to have during beach outings or social gatherings, and throw everything in it until the bag can be disposed of properly. It can be inconvenient to walk back and forth to a trash bin a significant distance away. Eliminate the temptation to litter by having a trash bag in your immediate area to dump in a bin as you leave or have in your car until you reach a dump.
- Set good examples. Explain to family and friends why littering is unacceptable. It deteriorates the beauty of the beach, seriously harms marine life and human health, and can even impact the economy if beaches have a bad reputation. Taking care of your home and investing in your community means respecting the environment around you.
- Call out litterbugs. Social pressures propel cultural changes like this. If you witness a friend or family member littering, ask them to pick it up and dispose of it properly. However, carrying a personal trash bag with you removes the temptation to litter at all!
- Refuse single-use plastics. When it is possible to do so, say no to single-use plastics. There is no item to litter if you don’t have a disposable item at all. Carrying a reusable bottle is a significant step here, as well as skipping the plastic bag at markets and grocery stores.
- Get involved in community clean-ups. Many organizations on St. Maarten organize clean-ups around beaches or other natural areas. You can always volunteer with them or set up your own by reaching out to neighbours and other community members.
Littering has severe environmental and health effects. While it may seem insignificant to leave a single candy wrapper or straw lying in the sand, it can directly affect others. Nature Foundation staff have found mollusks and fish trapped in water bottles and plastic buckets and 6-pack rings and fish lines wrapped around the necks and wings of birds. Objects such as dirty syringes, band-aids, and reproductive health items pose an immediate health problem for people, in particular children, who accidentally stumble upon them. Littering is not only ugly but dangerous for both humans and non-human animals.
St. Maarten can have a litter-free future. By encouraging family and friends to care for our island by properly disposing of trash, we can help shift the culture around waste now so future generations wouldn’t even consider littering. It will be a significant community effort to change the attitude towards littering, but it is necessary for the health and wellbeing of St. Maarten, our community, and our wildlife.