I enjoy drinking beer. Nothing beats coming up from a dive doing research in the Marine Park or after a long day in the office, ordering an ice-cold beer, and downing it in just a few swallows. I also enjoy beer because it is in my genes, with my father being Belgian I have no choice, and I enjoy the complexity of flavors, the variety, the history and the camaraderie that goes into having a few beers with friends. I do not enjoy the headache the following morning when a few turns in to too many.
Unfortunately, on Sint Maarten, this enjoyment of beer is not guilt free, and by having a cold one after working in the sun for a long time I am contributing to the growing environmental issues on Sint Maarten.
With every cold brew I, and my fellow beer drinkers both resident and visiting, and there are a lot of us, am helping to compound the solid waste issue already critical on the island. Every year tons of glass from beer bottles, and other bottles not to mention, are being dumped on our landfill, growing it in size and contributing to the environmental impact it is having on our nature as well as the health issues it causes to our population. Unrecycled and untreated glass causes harm to wildlife as well as helps with the famous fires on the Philipsburg Landfill, the glass refracting and magnifying the sun and contributing to setting the dump on fire.
We are a tourism destination and some estimates suggest that during the peak of high-season, including on a day when there are numerous ship in port and considering some of the waste from the French Side being dumped on the Dutch Side (which is ironic since they do recycle glass) some half a ton of empty beer bottles are deposited on the landfill alone. This again highlights what the Nature Foundation and other environmental organizations have been calling for so long; a government supported and subsidized recycle program which makes sorting and recycling garbage mandatory. The two voluntary recycling bins in two neighborhoods are simply not enough.
However, as with so many things, if we were to wait on Government to act we may have to wait until hell freezes over. In this case private citizens, and especially our local companies, can lead the way in ensuring that at least this aspect of our solid waste issue is addressed. One of the places I enjoy a completely guilt free beer is Jamaica. The island, as with many in the Caribbean, has a bottle buy back program which enables the consumer to get back a significant amount of the money they spent on their purchase when they return their empty glass bottle, which usually results in them of course purchasing more beer. For those who are familiar with the Netherlands know that that country has a similar program, the so-called statie-geld system where the returning of empty glass also results in money being returned to the consumer. St. Maarten has one of the most robust economies of the Easter Caribbean, and there is no reason why a similar program can’t work here. The beverage companies that are located on the island should do more in terms of corporate social responsibility this being an excellent opportunity to do so. These companies make significant money and with this system they can enact real social and environmental change. One of these beverage brands one of the largest regattas in the Caribbean which results in a large spike in beer consumption on the island, with the resulting increase in beer bottles contributing to our solid waste issues. Although the regatta and the companies surrounding it do support conservation initiatives for which we are grateful, ensuring a reduction in the glass entering our landfill will be a concrete and significant environmentally based corporate social responsibility, contributing to a better society throughout the year instead of only leading up to a time when we can expect serious fun. We need to get the business community to move away from just focusing on profit but also on the other two essential words that start with a p and without which we cannot move to a sustainable future: people and planet.
The solution is not difficult, and we may have to partner with our neighboring islands to find it, but we need to do what we can to solve our issues on the island and not be lulled into the dangerous complacency that so often affects us.
And I look forward to that one day, on our island gem in the Caribbean sea, drinking an ice-cold beer completely guilt free and with the knowledge that I am not contributing to the environmental challenges of Sint Maarten.