The High Costs of Island Waste Removal and Energy Use...Or Are They Benefits?

As a native mainlander spending my first summer on Martha’s Vineyard, there is much I have begun to discover regarding the unique character, rewards, and challenges posed by island life.  Recently I was sitting in the Vineyard Power office and noticed that our trash and recycling were beginning to overflow.  I inquired as to why our waste had not been collected in several weeks (I had observed the pile growing since my arrival).  The concept of paying a private company to dispose of trash and recycled goods was completely foreign to me.  Later that afternoon, a woman signing our “Community Benefits” petition outside of Cronig’s Market was equally surprised to hear that she could not simply drop her trash off at a dump free of charge.

Here on the island there is a finite amount of space available and the surrounding ocean requires all goods to be transported by sea or air to and from the island.  While this may seem like a major inconvenience, it actually may be beneficial to the Martha’s Vineyard population.  Unlike many mainlanders who can put out their trash and recycle on a weekly basis and forget about where their waste goes, those on the island have to face the reality that the landfills have long been filled and capped and there are real costs associated with their waste because it must be transported to the mainland.  Yes, perhaps the fees associated with trash and recycling disposal are minimal and yes, many probably stop thinking about where the waste goes once it is loaded onto the ferry, but any means of compelling Americans to stop and briefly consider how much they consume and waste is important.  On Nantucket, for example, the realization of the space and cost issues related to waste disposal have led residents to reduce their non-recyclable, or straight to landfill, waste to 8%.  This is a significant amount when considering the approximately 66% of waste that is sent to landfill in the greater Massachusetts area.[1]

It is this greater consciousness of consumption that the nature of an island creates that makes MV so well suited for community owned and controlled energy.  The costs of sending electricity and fuel to the island are high and reduce the islands ability to be independent.  As one islander said to me the other day, he and his family recognize that the island needs to be generating its own energy and that could be in the form of a coal fired power plant or offshore wind development.  There are certainly varied costs and benefits to both energy sources, but stay tuned for next week’s blog that will explore the hidden costs of fossil fuel use.