Cienda Clendinen '23
Speech at Island Green Living's Plastics Recycling Program Launch

My name is Cienda Clendinen and I am a junior attending Gifft Hill School. I was born and raised here on St. John, and my family has been here for many generations. 


Growing up in Coral Bay, I can remember a time when our shorelines were full of healthy mangroves and wide beaches. When I was younger, I remember snorkeling with my family and seeing many healthy corals and lots of beautiful fish. Now, less than 16 years later, I have noticed and been upset by the decline of our ecosystems. Our marine and terrestrial ecosystems are suffering. While some of the damage has been the result of natural disasters, I feel humans have played a big role in this as well. There have been many instances where I’ve seen people throwing trash out of their cars and it makes me really sad to see that a resident of St. John could care so little about their own home. 


One of the biggest problems I see is the volume of single-use plastics in our environment. My generation is one that will inherit the problems of today, and so I have a particular interest in working now to help change the path that we are on. The typical single-use plastics like water bottles and to-go food containers for example take roughly 450 years to break down. This is a problem everywhere, but for the U.S. Virgin Islands in particular, it leads to three big issues. 


One, we don’t have anywhere to store this waste while it is breaking down. Two, the whole time plastics are decomposing, they’re releasing toxins and chemicals which eventually make their way into our soils and our oceans. Microplastics are tiny bits of plastic that are released as bigger products break down. These microplastics that are making their way into our ecosystems are being ingested by marine and terrestrial organisms and affecting the health and reproductive cycles of larger animals, including humans, as they ingest contaminated food sources. Even if you don’t see health as a critical issue because you personally are not sick yet, you can definitely see how the growing amount of plastic trash in our oceans, on our beaches, and in our mangroves affects the territory’s tourism industry, which of course then affects our economy. 


Sometimes, when I do research for class, this issue feels too big to face, but I’m standing here today because I do believe each of us can make a difference in this problem by following the four Rs. And yes, I know many of you probably thought there were only three Rs, but it turns out we are adding a fourth one. 


First, rethink. Rethink your habits and make a conscious choice to do better. Second, reduce. Reduce the amount of plastic things you purchase. Use the power of your purse to affect change in your world. Don’t buy single-use plastics when you can buy a product that’s made to be used more than once, or is made of a substance that is more environmentally sensitive as it breaks down. Next, reuse. How many of the plastics in your daily life are designed to be single-use? Take the time to think about how you can reuse these instead of just throwing them away. And finally, recycle. Once you’ve used your plastics as many times or ways as possible, sort them and make sure they end up in a recycling center like the one right here at Island Green Living, but make sure they have the numbers 1, 2, or 5 on the bottom. 


Have you ever heard of the saying, “Let the children lead them?” Well, at Gifft Hill School, the children are leading the way by introducing several schoolwide plastic initiatives designed to raise the awareness of students and their families. Parked over there where we all came in is the school’s red pickup truck with a bed full of plastics collected in a grade-level competition to see which grade could collect the most plastic waste for recycling. Soon, we will add nine new hand-painted recycling bins to our campuses so that it is even easier for students to collect and sort their plastic trash each day. Then, a team will bring it up here to be recycled every week. And keep an eye out around town for posters made by Gifft Hill School students to raise local awareness of Island Green Living’s new dropoff plastic recycling facilities. Now that we have this option, I never want to hear a local or villa manager saying we don’t have recycling on this island. 


By working individually and together, we can make a difference in the health of our environment and our people. Thank you.