At first glance, this picture of a beautiful, serene beach on the San Blas Islands of Panama looks pristine, but in reality, it is hiding a dirty secret, millions of small broken shards of plastic mixed in with its sand.
We live in a disposable plastic world. We eat out of plastic, drink out of plastic and just about everything around us has some plastic in it. It fills our world’s landfills, lakes, streams, and oceans and unlike organic waste, it doesn’t break down. You can’t burn it like paper without releasing toxic fumes into the air. The only way to deal with plastic is to recycle it. Unfortunately, many countries don’t have an effective waste management system and that plastic doesn’t get recycled. It may not even make it to a landfill. Many people often discard their trash improperly because they just don’t see why proper disposal is important. Often it ends up in the ocean where it washes up on the shores of countries like Panama and its neighbors, the San Blas Islands.
The amount of trash that washes up on the shores of this Central American country is staggering. The trash comes from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and many other countries as well as some from their own country as well. Some of it breaks broken down into small pieces were it is eaten by ocean life and mixed in with the sand on the beaches. It becomes virtually impossible to clean up because of its small size. However, the vast majority of the plastic doesn’t get broken down at all. Water bottles, engine oil bottles, parts of shoes, toys, etc. float into Panama’s fishing waters where they negatively impact the fishing industry and eventually end up floating onto Panama’s shores every year.
Here is a video of our guide, Toto, talking about the impact it has made on his community in the San Blas Islands of Panama:
Many Latin American countries have begun initiatives to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans and landfills each year. Countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Panama, and Chile have banned the use of plastic bags, while other countries like Belize, Bahamas, and Colombia have enacted laws to seriously reduce and discourage their usage. Costa Rica has a strategic plan to reduce the use of all plastic, not just bags by the year 2021. Ecuador has gone as far as banning all use and sale of anything plastic on its Galapagos Islands. Recently, Mexico has begun to make changes as well with a campaign to reduce the use of plastic straws.
Even with Latin America’s best efforts, it just isn’t enough. Unless drastic changes are made to how our world views, uses, and disposes of plastic, by the year 2050 there will be more plastic in our world’s oceans than fish.
Below are links to a couple articles and a research study where you can learn more about this issue.