Block Island is going green: So can you
With all of Block Island’s power coming from the first offshore windfarm in the Unites States, many Islanders may wonder how they can contribute to a greener lifestyle in their daily lives. Since only five percent of all plastic gets recycled, many of the items that you put into the blue recycle bin will still end up in the ocean. What about reduce? What about reuse? There’s more to being green than tossing plastics in a bin.
Island resident David Roosa has been cleaning the Island’s beaches for as long as he can remember. In September 2008, he finished his first cleanup of the entire island’s perimeter. This was a 29-mile project that covered the outer edges of Block Island and the Great Salt Pond. Roosa catalogued shocking amounts of pollution, previously reported in The Block Island Times: a total of 12,500 pounds of debris that included 57 tires, 7,000 aluminum cans, 8,500 plastic bottles, 2,000 glass bottles, thousands of plastic bags and balloons as well as 200 pounds of clothes.
Recycling should be done whenever possible. But before we recycle, we can reduce and re-use. The four most popular single-use plastics that are thrown away daily are bags, bottles, straws, and coffee lids. These can be easily replaced with re-usable bags, glass containers, aluminum straws and stylish to-go coffee cups. Whole Foods gives a discount for bringing your own bags, and your Starbucks latte is a bit cheaper if you have your own cup. Maybe it’s time the Island adopted some of these ideas!
There are many ways to reduce that don’t involve carrying re-usable containers. Switching to toiletries that aren’t pre-packaged or that can be re-filled without using extra plastic, like bar soaps and re-fillable hand soaps and detergent, is one step. Another is buying groceries at markets or in bulk. On the Island, you can only do this at the candy store, but could such a concept be used for things like oats, rice, grains and coffee? Simple steps like these are what can help keep the island clean.
"It's a shame about the packaging in stores, but I think nothing compares to the amount of used clothing, furniture, bicycles, car parts, and anything else that could easily be either resold or given away. The problem is finding the people who want what you don't,” said Roosa.
Not all items that can’t be re-homed should be thrown in the trash. St. Andrew Parish happily accepts donated secondhand clothes.
Whatever items are beyond repair can be given to the dump. Old sandals, boots, clothes and other textiles can be given to them for free. Landfill trash at the transfer station costs 12 cents per pound, which can add up. That may be something of an incentive to recycle as much as you can.
Throwing recyclables away literally costs you extra money, so why not recycle?
Shopping online can also contribute to plastic pollution because of regulations for putting certain items in their own bags like milk, eggs or fruit. Even Stop & Shop Peapod can go overboard with plastic bags. “I ended up with dozens of plastic bags when I ordered,” said Roosa. It may be possible to request the use of fewer bags or even buy re-usable bags and use those instead. But since the presence of plastic bags can’t entirely be avoided on the island, throwing them away is not necessarily the best option.
"Right now, the market for recycled plastics is very high. It's incredibly useful for the government to make things like fences, tables, benches and things at National parks,” said Roosa. “Even boardwalks on beaches can be made from recycled plastic. Don’t throw away these useful materials!”
Beginning the journey toward zero waste can be a hassle, but as it makes its way into the laws of the land, it gets easier. Stores are starting to offer alternatives to plastic bags, garbage collectors can take your compost and reusable goods, and businesses can be encouraged to use greener materials. California successfully banned single-use plastic bags over a year ago and in January, Block Island’s own plastic bag ban came into effect. Another example of the Island going green is on the Block Island Ferry, where your 12-oz beer comes in a plant-based plastic cup.
The Island is heading in the right direction. With a little nudge from community leaders, maybe one day we’ll see people like Dave Roosa wandering the beach in the wee hours of the morning, emptyhanded. “What’s up, Dave?” you might ask. “Where’s today’s haul?”
“No trash on the beach today,” he’ll reply, “Looks like I’ll have to find a new hobby!”
Olena Kagui is a travel writer and daughter-in-law of David Roosa, whose dedication to keeping our beaches clean inspired her to write this essay.