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Reduce and Reuse: Is a plastic free world possible?

July 20th, 2020
topic:Ocean Pollution
by:Ellen Nemitz
located in:Costa Rica, Brazil, Guatemala
tags:Capitalism, ocean pollution, plastic waste, single use plastic

What can't be reused, recyled or composted, simply shouldn't be made. The world needs a better industrial design compatible with the 21st century.

Plastic Free July is time to rethink a way of life based on plastics, especially single-use ones. All this practicality is killing the planet. About only 9% of plastic ever produced has been recycled, according to UN Environment. Almost 80% of the amount discarded goes to waste and around 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the ocean every year. 

Diego Saldanha, from Brazil, and Carolina Cavarria, from Costa Rica, have never met, but both act locally to solve this environmental problem. He grew up near the Atuba River, but realised “it was slowly dying”.

“I made an eco-barrier alone, with cheap materials, and three times a week I collect the trash. I do this to show to my sons that a better consciousness is possible”, he told FairPlanet. Since 2017, he estimates 5 tonnes of garbage were taken out of the waters and recycled. 

Cavarria has spent the last six years organising clean-ups, gathering volunteers to get the beach of Nicoya Peninsula rid of rubbish. She is part of WaterKeeper Alliance, an organisation working to take care of seas and oceans worldwide. “We organise clean-ups not just to clean up the beach, but to make people connect that whatever we consume in our daily lives might end up here, and most of the time ends up here”, she explains.

Costa Rica is, according to Together Band, a non-profit movement dedicated to cleaning up the ocean, one of the worst globally for plastic pollution, meanwhile having 6% of the world’s biodiversity. On the other hand, the country has been committed to reducing single-use plastics since 2017 and banning them until 2021, as a Together’s Band spokesperson explained: "This not only helps remove plastic from the South Pacific and North Atlantic oceans but encourages ecotourism and preserves our planet for years to come”.

Every kilogram of trash becomes a band by the hands of Nepalese artisans, women for whom the job means freedom. The organisation explains that the women employed "were identified as being trafficked” and the work provides a safe place, "but also health education projects, whilst providing a stable income". "Our aim is to support not just our workers but also their wider communities”, the spokesperson explains. Together Band also works in Brazil towards the same end. In the poorest regions of Salvador, in the country’s northeast, over 25 women are trained to create handmade bags.

All revenue helps NGOs dedicated to the 17 UN Global Goals, such as No Poverty, Quality Education, Gender Equality, Climate Action and Life Below Water, and now also to fight Covid-19. The organisation summarises that the project’s goal is to "engage one billion citizens worldwide with the United Nations Global Goals for a better future by 2030 using creativity and culture to raise awareness but also inspire to help achieve them”. 

Another country hosting a plastic removal organisation is Guatelama, which faces a huge pollution problem in the Motagua river, but that also has been acting to reverse the trend by banning single-use plastic, for example. In the beginning of 2020, 4ocean, a company previously operating in Florida, Bali and Haiti, arrived there to expand its activities of making ocean pollution into bracelets. Since 2017, 4ocean has collected over 8 million pound of trash from the ocean, and the local partnerships also contribute to improve people’s life quality. "In our experience, the local economy benefits from this type of operation because it provides full-time employment to residents who were previously struggling to find a steady form of income”, the Global Head of Brand Marketing of 4ocean, Tim Binder, told FairPlanet. 

Every step counts 

If Together Band aims to engage one billion people, the Brazilian activist Fernanda Cortez did not expect so much when she created, in 2015, a silicone retractable cup to replace disposable ones. Called “Menos 1 Lixo” (One Less Trash), her company estimates that almost 1 billion plastic cups were not used due to those sold until 2019. She started alone, like many other activists, moved by the goal of creating a more sustainable world, from what raised a huge “movement focused on empowering individuals, capable of transforming the world by little actions”.

The Brazilian partner of WaterKeeper Alliance, the NGO APREC Coastal Ecosystems, always believed in this community potential. At the beginning of the century it restored a large area of mangrove in Guanabara Bay boundaries in Rio de Janeiro. Around 20 thousand trees were planted. Now the project Guanabara Baykeepers plans to remove plastics in a pilot project at Maricá Lagoon and after expand to other areas of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, besides keeping the investments in environmental education. In the opinion of its former president,  Sérgio de Mattos Fonseca, who did several oceanography courses and holds a DSc degree in Micrometeorology of Ecosystems, the world needs a paradigm change. Otherwise, all clean-ups are useless. “If we maintain a society based on a capitalism that produces necessities, cleaning up the ocean is like drying the ice”, he said.

The way towards a more sustainable economy is hard and full of traps. According to the UN Single-Use Plastics report published in 2018, "more than 60 countries have introduced bans and levies to curb single-use plastic waste". In 2019, a new report showed that many governments and companies are committing to eliminating problematic plastic packaging and increasing the use of recycled plastic in packaging — some big ones such as Unilever and PepsiCo have set targets to 2025. On the other hand, not every company is so committed. For example, Coca-Cola’s head of sustainability, Bea Perez, said to BBC that one of the biggest soda sellers in the world "will not ditch single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them”. The company is responsible itself for producing 200,000 bottles every minute, a great part of the one million sold in the world.

Mattos Fonseca also ponders that the recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic may paralyse an ongoing trend of replacing an oil-based economy. “The companies will tend to use well implemented and cheaper technologies, and the biodegradable plastic use is still incipient in Brazil”, he analyses.

Just coming back from the largest open ocean clean-up in history in the The Pacific Garbage Patch, Locky MacLean, a former director at Sea Shepherd, said to the Ocean Voyages Institute that “There is no cure-all solution to ocean clean-up: It is the long days at sea, with dedicated crew scanning the horizon, grappling nets, and retrieving huge amounts of trash, that makes it happen”. We also add: there is no true solution until the basis of our society changes. Paul Connect, now retired chemistry professor and one of the founders of Zero Waste theory, once stated: "if we can't reuse it, if we can't recycle it, if we can't compost it, you guys shouldn't be making it. We need a better industrial design compatible with the 21st century".

Article written by:
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-19 at 22.26.02
Ellen Nemitz
Author
Costa Rica Brazil Guatemala
“Whatever we consume in our daily lives might end up here, and most of the time ends up here”, says Carolina Cavarria.
The world needs a better industrial design compatible with the 21st century.
"If we can't reuse it, if we can't recycle it, if we can't compost it, you guys shouldn't be making it."