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The Gap Year Blog

Plastics in Belize - Frontier

24 May 2018 15:20 PM
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Photo credit: NOAA Photo Library | Ben Mierement

Single use plastics are currently very present in the media with several countries, including the United Kingdom, vowing to ban their production. This is a fantastic step in the right direction to remove this damaging product from the environment. 

In Belize, specifically Caye Caulker, single use plastics are ever present and while local bars and cafés display signs stating things like ‘we would appreciate it if you said no to a straw’ this is simply not enough. Recently, while taking part in a beach clean, the issue of single use plastics littering the island became even more shocking when we filled over 50 garbage bags with straws, plastic cutlery, plastic bottles and of course plastic bags (something which is given out far too liberally here). 

It is of further concern that multi-use plastics, such as plastic bottles, are not recycled on Caye Caulker due to the lack of a recycling system. It is of the upmost importance that the island’s beautiful natural environment is preserved. Furthermore it is vital that we work to protect Belize’s barrier reef which is under constant threat as the oceans become more and more littered with plastics. 

I have met a number of locals and expats who are very aware of the issue of plastics spoiling their island and who are taking whatever steps possible to attempt to resolve this. After attending a meeting hosted by a group of people known as ‘The Idealists’, the positive attitude of the locals and their desire for change has become very apparent. Ideas of ways to reduce the waste scattered around the island were discussed and some of them were very interesting. 

In June, Frontier will attend an event hosted by The Idealists in which they aim to work with the local youth to educate them on recycling and the dangers of plastics in the environment. The aim is to create a sense of excitement for recycling and to turn it into something that is not a chore. One of the ways in which the group aims to do this is by helping children to create multi-use bags out of old t-shirts which they can distribute to their family and friends. This will not only be a fun activity but will take a small step in reducing the use of plastic bags in every day life. 

Another very exciting proposal that has been made is to collaborate with a recycling company currently working in San Pedro. This company takes plastics - generally plastic bottles and plastic bags - and turns them into bricks and walkways. There are plans to expand this initiative to Caye Caulker within the coming months, with the local council’s approval. The aspiration is to create walkways to local schools made solely out of plastics - creating a safer environment for children and a beneficial way of reusing plastics. It is currently in discussion whether or not it will be more cost effective to bring the machinery necessary for this development to Caye Caulker and set up what will essentially be a recycling plant, or whether it will be more beneficial to send the plastics to San Pedro where a plant already exists, and bring the final product back to Caye Caulker. 

In addition to all the inspiring steps taken by the local community, it has recently been announced that Belize as a whole is beginning to phase out single use plastics and Styrofoam, and that these will be banned by 2019. 

It is a challenge to not get ahead of ourselves when such exciting developments are on the horizon, but at Frontier Belize we are really looking forward to seeing what changes are going to occur within the coming months and years. 

By Claudia Afeltra – Assistant Research Officer | Frontier Belize Marine Conservation 

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!