We all live in a world of convenience, a world of seemingly endless choices. Even in far off, remote places we have access to an abundance of options. We might not have as many varieties here on the island of Roatan as we do back in the United States, but there are still a number of decisions we as responsible consumers have to make as we go about the simple business of living our lives and managing our business.
We’ve been thinking a lot about some of these choices because of the changes in weather that have churned the water up of late. (Don’t worry, we’re not going to get into climate change here, that’s a separate, sprawling issue that deserves a series of posts). Tropical storm #14, now known as Hurricane Michael (which is hitting the USA at the moment and is actually back to being a Tropical Depression), dropped quite a lot of rain on Roatan. Aside from the prodigious runoff that brought lots of nutrients and human waste into the water, the current, waves, and wind all radically changed directions. The wind, normally out of the east, shifted to the west or south or the southwest. The current, which normally moves in an easterly direction, was doing the opposite, moving westerly with big swells.
Things like trash that were normally trapped in the mangroves by the current, wind, and waves came loose and were pushed out into the sea or onto the beach. When we sailed up to New Port Royal a couple days ago once the waves had calmed down, the amount of garbage in the ocean was truly disheartening. It was everywhere. There was so much it was almost like a film across the water.
And most of the garbage was plastic, with lifespans in the thousands of years. Which means, that trash is in the ocean forever unless some person pulls it out. Or some creature eats it. Even in a pristine, protected area like the lagoon in the private, gated community of Parrot Tree Plantation, there was plastic literally everywhere, covering the normally spotless white sand beach. Inside the marina, it was even worse.
Which brings us back to our choices as consumers. We’ve been taught that our choices matter and we’ve got to believe they do, to think otherwise would be to give in to despair, to throw out hands up in the air and say whatever. We try not to buy single use plastic containers, especially water bottles. We use re-use five gallon jugs or make our own water instead with our reverse osmosis Powermaker Survivor watermaker.
We use aluminum cans or glass bottles so they can be recycled. We use our own reusable bags at the store, no matter what we’re buying. We use stainless steel straws instead of disposable plastic ones and we always tell our waitresses or waiters that we don’t want straws, even when we’re drinking Monkey LaLas.
Is choosing less plastic as consumers going to make a difference? We like to hope so, but plastic is ubiquitous, easy and cheap. We can’t count the number of islanders we see walking around drinking juice from plastic straws in little plastic pouches. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it’s economical, but it’s terrible for the environment. Yesterday, on the way back from the supermarket, we saw a guy in the back of the pickup truck ahead of us toss his empty chip bag and then his empty soda bottle right off into the jungle like it didn’t matter. With only a little more effort, he could have put those things into a trash receptacle, but littering was easier. Littering was more convenient. Maybe education is part of the answer, teaching everyone that any litter not in a garbage can will eventually make it to the ocean.
But maybe we need to think bigger and look at the packaging procedures of just about everything we buy, especially things we get online. Maybe we need to start demanding more accountability, more sustainability from big business enterprises like Amazon. Maybe we can make campaigns like LastStraw Movement transform how goods are packaged and sold so that everything doesn’t have to be wrapped in plastic.
Yesterday, we saw a trash cleanup was organized (by Sodastream, COPECO and the Bay Islands Government) just down the island over on Barefoot Key and the amount of trash they collected was staggering. It was great to see, but events like this need to happen more often. Maybe we need to start organizing massive ocean cleanup efforts, pooling together fleets of vessels with big surface nets to skim plastic and other trash from the water.
We don’t have the answers, but we need to try and reduce the amount of plastic we all consume. We need to try and educate everyone that plastic is not a good long-term, sustainable choice. We need to collectively put pressure on industries that use plastic to look into more environmentally friendly options. Even if that means paying a little more. Even if it’s a little less convenient than having that single use water bottle or diet soda.