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  Yves Bourel has been living in St. Barts for more than 10 years. He is an experienced journalist and has been the editor-in-chief for local newspapers. Currently, he is one of the radio announcers at Radio St. Barth for whom he covers political news and is presenting the local news every 2 weeks for St. Barths Online!
  October 16, 2001 - Issue # 7
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  A cleaner island
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  This project is a vital one and will position St. Barth as an environmental leader throughout the Caribbean as far as waste treatment is concerned," said Michel Geoffrin, the council member who heads the environmental commission. During the inaugural ceremony for the island's new waste treatment incineration plant, a 53-million-franc piece of equipment, Geoffrin underscored the municipality's firm commitment to better and more efficiently manage waste treatment in St. Barth, and more globally, to become more proactive in environmental protection matters. Elected officials, the hotel association, and the business community have long pushed for concrete measures to safeguard the island's reputation as a desirable Caribbean tourist destination. For many, St. Barth's cache depends on certain factors, not the least of which are safety and cleanliness. These fundamental criteria are part of the reason that Caribbean travelers choose St. Barth over its Caribbean neighbors. Both here and abroad, the new incinerator plant may be the most important, if not the most impressive, proof that steps are being taken to keep St. Barth clean.
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   The policy change is a relatively new one as far as island leaders are concerned. In the late 80's, for example, garbage trucks were still being hired by the island council to dump improperly- burned refuse into what has since become the island's stadium. Petit Galet, the seafront area behind the hospital, was another municipally-designated dumping zone for "problem trash"-car chassis, for example-that no one knew what to do with.
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  Pertinently aware of the fact that the island's perception abroad as a clean island is one of its most effective selling points, island authorities decided to review the island's current environmental situation and create a program that could appropriately address the problems and deficiencies of the current system. Today, that program includes mandatory trash sorting and separate garbage collection for organic refuse, glass and aluminum. Municipal trash bins for sorted trash have been placed throughout the island, in each of the neighborhoods, to facilitate and promote residents to sort their trash, residential and commercial alike. The municipality purchased a sorting plant for glass and aluminum and a shredder for minor industrial waste like tires and plastic. Nevertheless, the structural lynchpin of waste treatment, was an incinerator plant that could handle the island's ever-increasing garbage volume. Logic dictated that a new incinerator plant be purchased, one that could anticipate the needs of waste treatment in the decades to come.
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  Aside from its capacities-it can process 1. 5 tons per hour as opposed to the 1 ton per hour the plant it is replacing can process-the new incinerator plant meets all of the European pollution control standards for smoke treatment. The thick, black trail of smoke, the embarrassing signature of the old incinerator, will disappear. Just as importantly, the steam liberated from the combustion of waste will be converted into potable water. On an island where water is a precious commodity, this is a considerable advantage. Finally, the new plant can process garden debris and rubbish which will no doubt come as a relief to amateur gardeners, home builders and professional landscapers.
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  Backing up environmental awareness with cutting edge technology carries a hefty price tag. Aside from its purchase price, the incinerator plant will cost the community 6 million francs per year to operate. Despite the critics who say the plant is too expensive, the island's new incinerator has generally received a warm welcome.
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  Though the new plant represents a step forward in measures aimed to protect the environment, it will not be able to solve all of the island's waste problems. At first glance, and specially when compared to neighboring Caribbean islands, St. Barth looks like a clean, proper island. But a closer look reveals another, less flattering picture. On October 7, a clean-up morning organized and sponsored by the island's daily newspaper, the News, gathered more than 100 civic-minded volunteers who spent their precious Sunday morning off picking up garbage. Sacks were filled with thousands of beer bottles and cans that had been carelessly and negligently tossed into bushes, along roadsides and beaches. Clean-up volunteers also found the unexpected: abandoned old scooters, electrical appliances, an ice machine, a refrigerator, even an old toilet bowl. While the problem of littering is still manageable, it is chronic and deeply rooted. It doesn't matter how modern the island's infrastructures are. It's not until residents themselves fully assume their personal responsibility and develop consistent, coherent habits that support a clean island environment that we'll truly be able to usher in an environmentally-sound future. All municipal efforts made toward this end: environmental awareness campaigns, public education programs on proper waste disposal, etc., should be encouraged.

  More to come,

  Yves Bourel


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