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…

Written By:

Magnolia Vessup

Current Rock of Residence:

St. Thomas, USVI

Island Girl Since:

July 2014

Originally Hails From:

Georgia, then Colorado, Connecticut, North Carolina, Georgia again, and now St. Thomas

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, 16 Degrees.

Want to read more posts by this writer? Click here.

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