You have just stumbled upon one of the BVI's most innovative recycling efforts, Green VI's Glass Studio. The tall lanky glass blower is Jake Barron, a recently transplanted resident of St John and the former official glass blowing artisan at Maho Bay Resort. The day I visited, there was a young local woman in jeans and a t-shirt following Jake in his rhythmic steps and assisting him with tools that look more suited for a blacksmith. I learned that this is his apprentice Cisne Benjamin, one of four BV Islanders and the only woman hoping to acquire this craftsman's skills.
As with most projects that are new and groundbreaking, this vision had a genesis over a number of years. Instrumental to this was Charlotte McDevitt, Director of Green VI, a locally based not for profit organization with a mission to maintain a balance between development and conservation in the territory. "The idea actually came in 2008 when I attended the ReCaribe Waste Management Conference in St. John," Charlotte explained. "I attended as part of the event a glass blowing class, met Jake and the vision for a similar project for recycling glass in the BVI was born."
As Charlotte readily admits, Green VI has gotten by "with a little help from my friends" as the Beatles song goes. The international seed money to support the project came from the UK Government's Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP), with the encouragement of current BVI Governor Boyd McCleary. However, Charlotte is also impressed with how many local businesses came on board with support as well, including the largest sponsor SOL BVI, which has committed to supplying the propane for the furnace for six months.
"You see that big round shell that makes up the furnace?" Charlotte laughed. "That is a perfect example of finding new uses for waste." The large gas container was actually owned by SOL and destined for the dump until Green VI requested its use as the base for the furnace.
The concept for the location of the Green VI Glass Studio was to have a visible tourist spot for demonstrations and a place with numerous restaurants and bars to collect and recycle glass waste. So far Cane Garden Bay has been the dream location. 'We certainly get more than enough glass for our needs right here," Charlotte said.
In fact, she cautions people not to drop off glass at the studio site as they do not have the facilities to accumulate glass waste. "This is the first stage in our recycling effort and at this point it is a demonstration project only. "Charlotte emphasized. "Soon we will be erecting bleachers to accommodate school groups, there will be interactive glass blowing sessions and we hope to educate the youth about creative ways to recycle waste."
However, any day that Jake is there with one of his apprentices, the public is free to watch the process from start to finish. If you have never seen a master glass blower practice his craft you are in for a treat. Jake has worked in this medium for nearly twenty years and apprenticed himself at a Vermont Glassworks shop. He estimates the training process will take five to six years for his local apprentices to learn the craft and also how to maintain the equipment. His end goal is to teach himself out of a job and let BV Islanders run the Glass Studio.
The day I was there it looked like his apprentice Cisne was picking up quickly. Once Jake brought out a bright orange ball of molten glass on his steel rod from the cavity of the furnace, he waved it slowly in a low golf swing to allow gravity to extend the molten glass into a more oblong shape. He dipped it into a pile of crushed blue glass on a slate table nearby to give it its color. He blew through the end of the rod capping off the oxygen with his thumb, waited, then placed it back into the furnace for more firing. On the second round he sat at his "work bench" a specially designed seating platform with an iron rail he can roll the rod on and get to his tools. Cisne assisted with giant tweezers that shaped the end of the glass. She was also ready with a flat wooden paddle that helped to shape the base of what was turning into a beautiful vase. Several more firings and shaping tools later, an elegant blue vase was formed at the end of his rod and then separated to cool.
Displayed on a long table at the side of the Glass Studio are many of the glass objects d'art already made by Jake and his apprentices. These range from vases, to wine goblets, fun Caribbean sea creatures such as starfish and sea turtles, decorative bowls and small jewelry pieces-even hanging teardrops that reflect light. All of the funds raised go towards research and the implementation of solutions for glass waste in the territory.
So the next time you drink a beer and enjoy a Caribbean sunset, think of the path that bottle has taken and head over to the Green VI Glass Studio and purchase one of their wonderful creations. You will then become part of the environmental chain insuring that trash need not be waste, but can truly be turned into treasure. Who knows, that vase you bring home might've been made from your Carib bottle.