Beach day! Today we left Monteverde for sunnier (and warmer) skies at Isla Tortuga. After a traditional Costa Rican breakfast of eggs, black beans and rice, and plantains, we boarded a ship. The hour and a half boat ride to the island was amazing; we sailed past a collection of uninhabited islands and through deep blue water. The island we spent the day on is a reserve, and only the beach is open to visitors. The forested portion is protected and closed to visitors.
Once we arrived at the island, the day was ours. I headed out snorkeling with a group, and seeing the fish among the rock and coral was really neat. I saw fish fighting over territory, and the victor chase off the loser. A 3-course lunch refueled us, and I joined in a game of beach volleyball. After thirty minutes of playing and diving into the sand, I needed to wash off a bit. I headed into the water and hung out with a group there, searching for coral hidden beneath the sand.
When we went over to the rocks along the beach to look for crabs, I was disenchanted by the trash I saw in the water. While there wasn’t a large amount, it was all plastic: bottle caps, wipes, and other assorted bits and pieces of everyday, single-use items. This contrasted so sharply with the pristine water and beach. Reflecting on this, it makes me think back to a conversation I had with my mom earlier this year after my family went to Bali and had a similar experience, but with even larger amounts of trash washing on the beach.
Convenience items are largely encased in or comprised of plastic, and more times than not, these items are single-use. At the end of its consumer service (an empty plastic bottle), it is discarded, destined for either a landfill or, if possible, recycling facility. As far as the consumer is concerned, it is out of sight and out of mind. This kind of thinking is conditioned into us; we are told that landfills are where all trash goes, and fill bins large enough to hold a small teenager with the waste we generate. These teenager-sized bins are emptied from residential areas once a week. That’s approximately 52 small teenagers a year per household; imagine how many bins are emptied per block, city, country. We assume these landfills are bottomless, and that these craters that have been dug into the earth are able to absorb and erase our charred path of consumeristic destruction.
This is not the case. Landfills are operable for an average of 30 years, depending on the location of the landfill and the volume of waste it sees per day. Once a landfill is full, it is covered up and “forgotten”. Another pit is dug in another location, affecting another disadvantaged community, and the cycle continues.
So how did the plastic come into the ocean? This trash is not always sent directly to a landfill, however. Barges of trash are shipped out every day, destined for some third world country. Along the way, the wind whips at the heaps sitting in the barge, and knocks loose pieces. These pieces find themselves at the mercy of the ocean currents, and either become lodged in some poor marine animal’s stomach, neck, or other body part, or wash ashore otherwise pristine beaches in the south of Costa Rica.
So how can we stop ruining our beaches, killing marine life, and ruining our landfills? Excellent question! Perhaps the easiest step to take is reducing the amount of single use items you purchase or use. Invest in a stainless steel water bottle (hydroflasks are in and are EXCELLENT), and head to the nearest goodwill or Target to pick up ceramic dishes and metal utensils to use at meals, rather than plastic-coated styrofoam or paper dishes and cups and plastic utensils. Not only will this instantly decrease the amount of waste you produce in a given week, it will save you money in the long run! It’s $5 for a ceramic bowl that you can reuse forever, or $3 for 25 paper bowls that you have to continue to restock whenever you run out. Seems pretty open shut to me.
As I posted about in my Rancho Margot post, mindfulness is ever important. When you recognize that waste is removed but not deleted, you begin to notice the things we use everyday that may not really be worth the potential environmental degradation they cause (ask me about straws).
These small things will (hopefully) inspire you to find new ways to reduce your waste, and to share this information with your friends. Maybe you’ll share it at the beach, drinking from a hydroflask, with no plastic to be seen littering the beach for miles.