Dumpsters in Paradise

Back in the continental United States, you get in trouble if you dump your personal trash in dumpsters. We used to get the sideways glance complete with raised eyebrows from our neighbors whenever they found out that we actually drove our trash to the dump transfer station. Even when I explained that it was so we could make sure we were recycling as much as possible, a condescending half smile was all we got. One of my neighbors didn’t hesitate to share her horror: she “couldn’t even imagine ever putting a bag of trash in her car!” was the exclamation, as she brought her perfectly pink, gel-manicured hand to her chest with a gasp. Oh, if only she could see me now…

Here on my rock, there is no curbside recycling and no magic trucks that make the trash disappear for a small monthly fee. There are dumpsters. Lots of dumpsters. So pervasive are they, that they are used as landmarks. I often say, “Let’s meet at the Red Hook dumpsters,” and everyone knows exactly where I am referring to. Island conversations that you’d never thought you’d have can even revolve around dumpsters – forgetting your trash in the car and having to turn back for the dumpster is a relatable reason for lateness as is the distinct odor said trash has left behind in your car.

*click for image credit

I have my favorite dumpsters, as well as some that I never use. Usually, my preferences have to do with how difficult (read: dangerous) the driving and parking situation is surrounding any given dumpster. There are two dumpsters in particular that are on the side of a busy intersection and, realistically, there is no parking near them. This means people get very inventive. And when I say inventive, I mean ridiculous and/or stupid and/or insane and/or illogical and, most often, hilarious.

Our dumpsters are neither clean, nor organized, nor are they regulated in any official way. Well, there is a sign on some of them that advises what is acceptable to toss and what’s not, though usually, there is a pile of the designated unacceptable articles at the base of the sign anyway. The old, island middle finger to the dumpster, it seems. The chickens and cats living communally amongst the dumpsters are almost charming, though I prefer not to think of the rodent life that is surely present as well. There are often odors that defy explanation, and mountains of cardboard because nobody (except apparently me) can be bothered to flatten their boxes. The complete disconnect to one’s trash is shocking to us newbies – even to those of us who were kind of connected to our personal waste generation stateside. And without any real, large scale recycling available on the island, and a landfill that’s become a toxic, unstable mountain, it’s pretty tragic.

But, like all things here, it’s often a matter of perspective. There is opportunity around every corner, if only you’re willing to look. There are business opportunities, and there are… shall we say… shopping opportunities.

dumpster donation jar with sign: "Attention $1 to keep clean"

dumpster donation jar with sign: “Attention $1 to keep clean”

My friends and I have taken to creating our own form of creative island recycling. On a rock with relatively limited resources, one simply does not have the luxury of being snooty.

Here is a short list of what my friends and I have found at our dumpsters and repurposed as our own as of recent:

  • a kid’s bike (in perfect condition)
  • a wrought-iron lamp (complete with nice lampshade)
  • Rubbermaid plastic bins
  • tools
  • a contractor-type hammer drill and circular saw (working!)
  • plywood (almost a full sheet)
  • wicker chairs
  • a stainless steel lobster pot
  • fishing equipment
  • a case of UNOPENED assorted liquor (score of the century, I say!)

One mother even proudly published pictures on Facebook of her kid riding around on his new-to-him island dumpster bike. It’s all good. One woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure, right?

Do you dumpster dive island-style on your rock? Come on… admit it. This is a safe space…

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Magnolia Vessup

About Magnolia Vessup

How’d Magnolia find herself in St. Thomas? She sat down at the computer to look at Facebook (her substitute for real-life friends when she was living in rural Georgia) and instead found herself looking at a new email in her husband’s inbox. It said something about a “unique” employment opportunity in the US Virgin Islands. Her husband said, “It’s probably spam. That sounds like spam.” But Magnolia figured, what was there to lose by responding? Maybe it was legit. They did want to get the hell out of there…

Now, she doesn’t look at the expansive, lush green grass of a beautifully maintained suburban yard; she looks out her wall of windows down island to St. John and the BVIs – boats, weather, and incredible sunrises. She doesn’t deadhead perennials anymore; she vacuums African dust out of the pool. Her once zippy black Audi is now a beater 4-Runner. She now has lurid fantasies of clean, well lit, fully stocked stores that smell good. Her gardening adventures seem to more frequently be mis-adventures; she’s bizarrely obsessed with the amount of rain that falls on her roof; and she spends a ridiculous amount of her time grocery shopping and cleaning up lizard poo. Now that she lives in a fantastic village of interesting and genuine women, her kids are living a life that they couldn’t have even imagined a year ago. It’s really ALL good – even the icky stuff. You can read more of her tales on her blog, www.16degreesvi.blogspot.com.

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18 thoughts on “Dumpsters in Paradise

  1. We too have dumpster but!!! Never stay there that long as one , most likely will catch a serious sickness due the stench, but the feral cats are always in abundance,,,

  2. My clean-freak dad did not want place trash in the car, so taking the trash out was a two person job requiring a driver and a passenger. The passenger got to hold the trash bag through the open car window with the bag riding outside the car.

  3. Like lots of other things, recycling is a do it yourself deal.
    Don’t use bottled water, and then you don’t have to deal with the bottles.
    Compost, and then you don’t have to deal with food waste.
    Repair stuff, rather than buying new. “Repair” is foreign to lots of people, but think of it this way: this item is no good to me as is, so if I break it, there is no difference; BUT if I take it apart, carefully putting the bits down in the order I took them out, and clean it and oil it, it may just work again. Just don’t do that to electrical stuff unless you have first unplugged it. Everyone learns how to repair things that way. It is very satisfying when you succeed.

    • Absolutely this! Living on a teeny boat, composting was out, but the fishies underneath our hull loved all the food scraps, egg shells and pineapple rinds I was constantly tossing overboard. But we reused water bottles, and glass bottles for storage of dried goods, or water for hikes, etc. And definitely keeping/mending things. If you MUST get rid of it and it’s still in OK shape, see if any of your friends or neighbors could do with a lovingly used item. At least it could enjoy a second life rather than moldering in a landfill.

    • Google Purifying water with sunlight. It looks REALLY simple and safe. And free.
      And Tropicana Orange juice bottles meet the standard noted, according to the label on the bottom.

  4. I’d love to recycle living on an island. I’m definitely into mending more or not being bothered about a hole in my clothes but I drink loads of bottled water.
    There is no way on God’s green earth am I drinking water out of my cistern. Lol. We even brush our teeth using bottled water.
    After having frogs, gecko’s and anything else having a free swim in my cistern. Using bottled is the only way.

    • We got a UV system for our cistern and honestly, I feel safer with this water even with froggies than the island’s city-water. But what a change in mindset from the states…the connection to personal water consumption is sobering.

  5. I have found numerous useful and occasionally valuable ‘things’ at the dumpsters in my 40 years of island living – there are usually a few items placed prominently off to the side in a kind of unofficial re-cycling but dumpster diving isn’t frowned on either. Quite a few pickup trucks often fill up the bed with metal objects to sell at the metal recycling places.
    “Are you shopping or dropping?” is not an uncommon question when we see someone we know wandering around the site peering in to find treasures.
    My best score is a beautiful antique mahogany 4 poster bed headboard – I know I should have done some diving in and found the rest of the pieces but wrestling that piece onto the roof of my car in the dark was challenging and the next morning the dumpster was emptied.

  6. Dumpster ? Actually, I do consider myself fortunate to pay $250/year for someone to pick up our bin once a week …..sometimes Saturday, sometimes Sunday, sometimes Monday, sometimes the next week. If we don’t pay, we drive the trash 15 miles to the South, hoping not to get a flat, and, further, hoping the maggots don’t crawl from the back of the car to the driver’s seat.

    We give all organic waste back to the bush, but even the feral cats don’t eat the conch skin, etc. No matter how carefully it’s wrapped, it will get flies (and all the rest).

    There is no recycling….our archipelagic nation (The Bahamas) simply afford that service on each inhabited island, and, there is no central recycling plant in Nassau. Therefore, lithium batteries, car batteries, paint cans, single use water bottles and all the rest end up in the dump.

    We are thankful for our cistern water as no toxic waste has leeched into our drinking supply. We purify it with large chlorine tablets and are still alive.

    Fun sharing stories ….

    • We “compost” our organics too, but we’ll never get compost because the chickens eat it! Ugh, just thinking about a trash bag in this heat, writhing with maggots, in my back seat makes me cringe!

  7. Pingback: Dumpsters in Paradise | Junk Drs Chapel Hill

  8. In July (2016) we will be going to St Croix for the first time in many years and my wife has sent me this site. We lived on St Croix 1969 until 1978….best dumpster find was Billy, a baby goat who became our pet goat. He may have been some sort of miniature…maybe a runt ..but he was thrown away. Billy became house trained and enjoyed his before dinner scotch!

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