Continued Reflections on Our Plastic Use

*POST 2: Written by Catherine Soler, Leslie Brian, Kelly Lamble, Scott Peacock and Sipian Wang

Beautiful water and skyline with boatsThis is a second post about our project in the Bay Islands. After spending three weeks answering the question, ““How might we provide clean drinking water to the communities of the Bay Islands without a plastic footprint?”, we are now examining the question,

“How has this project changed the way we look at our own plastic footprint?”

See reflections from our team members below.

Scott’s Reflections: Developing Gratitude and Empathy

There was a perception on the islands that the pollution is caused by a “live for today” mentality. But, it’s not about enjoying the day; it’s about surviving the day. How can someone worry about the future consequences of plastic waste when they are worried about food, water, and safety today? I have the means and time to plan for the future, but still, many things that I use for convenience, saving money, or fun have negative externalities. This experience has reinforced my appreciation for the benefits I have and has made me reconsider the conveniences I take at the expense of others.

Beautiful water and sky with branch

Kelly’s Reflections: Called to Action

As we slowly moved down Pumpkin Beach on Utila, methodically picking up pieces of plastic, my heart sank. A staggering number of microplastics dotted the white sand with blues and reds and greens. Even the most painstaking cleanup could never get all of those little pieces off the sand and into a trash bag.

Witnessing the effects of plastic pollution firsthand made me think about my voice as a consumer. What excuses do I tell myself for why I’m not able to make a bigger impact? Is there really not enough space in my kitchen to have trash, recycling, and compost bins? Is there really no way to avoid buying new consumables, like big coffee tins from Trader Joe’s or shampoo from Walgreens, instead of refilling them? Those small pieces of plastic littering that beach was the motivation I needed: I bought two new trash bins yesterday, and a bar of soap that came without packaging. These may be small steps, but if enough consumers start voicing their desire for less plastic and greater sustainability, companies will have no choice but to listen.

banner saying "El Plastico recicla, la naturaliza, no!"

Catherine’s Reflections: Demystifying Plastic Perceptions

When we interviewed local people about their clean drinking water sources and plastic pollution, there was a pervasive sentiment that because we were from the US, we knew how to do things the right way. There was blind faith that, in America, we are free of single use plastic water bottles and all of our waste is composted or neatly packaged and disposed in environmentally friendly ways. Meanwhile, those same people were promoting sustainable straw use and drinking from 5 gallon jugs of water in their homes to reduce single use bottle waste – practices that are far and few between in the US. More so, by interacting with the communities on the Islands, I recognized many of my own behaviors that actually encourage plastic pollution and was inspired by their actions to change.

In a place like the US, we have the luxury of resources, education and expertise to make substantial plastic reduction and be a true ecological leader to others in the world. I hope that we act on that opportunity quickly and live up to the expectations that the rest of the world has for us. After this project, I hope to work to help local people feel empowered to design their own solutions to sustainability and have the confidence to share their practices with others. I am committed to learning more about how to reduce my own plastic footprint and find ways to inspire others around me to do the same.

plastic coke bottle on the beachClick here to read Post 1 from Team TBP

To view additional photos from Team TBP, click here

How Three Weeks in the Bay Islands Changed our Perspective on Plastic

Beautiful water and boatsPOST 1: Written by Catherine Soler, Leslie Brian, Kelly Lamble, Scott Peacock and Sipian Wang

How three weeks in the Bay Islands changed our perspective on plastic

Prior to this consulting project, none of our team members had even heard of the Bay Islands. Now, we will never forget them. The beautiful lush scenery, the warm people, the exquisite sunsets – our IBD adventure was chock full of moments to remember. And yet, the most frequent way we will remember our time on this project will be through the sight of plastic.

The objective of our consulting project was to help Think Beyond Plastic (“TBP”), a Carmel-based NGO focused on plastic reduction through creative enterprise models, bolster its Mesoamerican Reef Plastic Reduction Initiative through the identification of business ideas and partnership opportunities. We explored the question:   

“How might we provide clean drinking water to the communities of the Bay Islands without a plastic footprint?”

And now, we will share the answer to another question that came from this work:

“How has this project changed the way we look at our own plastic footprint?”

Pile of plastic and trash

Leslie’s Reflections: The Shield of Waste Management System

Our team came to the Bay Islands with the hypothesis that tourists were the problem behind plastic pollution. We were right, just not in the way I had first imagined.  Waste management is a problem in most developing countries, and the Bay Islands are no exception. A 16-year-old boy described how the trash outside his home would smell and attract dogs. The government simply stopped collecting trash at the end of last year due to mismanaged funds. What would I do in the absence of reliable waste management? Most likely, I’d do what the islanders do: throw trash in an uninhabited, public space.

Yes, plastic pollution is a problem in the Bay Islands, but an average person there consumes far less than an average person in the United States. The local people reuse everything out of economic necessity — kids use plastic bottles as toys. On an island, everything you consume has a direct impact on your surroundings, while in the US, our waste management system shields us from the impacts of our consumerism. I am certainly guilty of the mentality that once the garbage man comes, my trash is out of sight, out of mind. Yet, I don’t really know what happens next. My trip to the Bay Islands has pushed me to lift the lid on waste management in the US and not to rely on recycling to undo the effects of unnecessary consumption.

Sipian’s Reflections: Every Effort Counts

Sipian’s Reflections

Sipian’s Reflections

I was standing on a white sand beach in Utila. On my right hand side is one of the most gorgeous scenes I’ve ever seen with crystal-clear blue water and the colorful coral reefs underneath. On my left hand side, pieces of plastic waste can be spotted all over. In fact, the picture above captures only part of the plastic we picked up during a 3-hour cleanup: toothbrushes, straws, toys, etc.

Beyond government and institutional efforts, I believe our day-to-day actions are the key to reducing plastic footprint. Every piece of plastic waste we produce doesn’t disappear when we throw it into the trash can; it can end up somewhere in the ocean. While there is no quick path to minimize our plastic footprint, every small effort counts. Ask for no straw in your next drink, resell children’s plastic toys online, and reuse your solo cup.

Look for our next post to continue our team’s reflections here