Plastic seemed like a great idea when it was invented. However, we failed to think the idea through and forgot about how will we dispose of it. Since plastic started being produced in the 1960’s it has been discarded into landfills and dumped into the ocean. There is an estimated 5.12 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean as of 2012. A study released in 2016 stated 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean every year. If the plastic problem is not taken under control scientists predict there will be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish. This is a big problem.
As I travel around Fiji I am constantly being offered plastic bags and straws. Which I kindly refuse. My response is always met with a reaction of surprise and confusion. Why would I not want a bag to carry my groceries in? The people truly don’t understand why I refuse. Plastic awareness is not a common topic here. However, that is all about to change.
The Fiji government recently announced Fiji is set to ban single use plastics starting January 2020. Fiji amongst other countries such as; Papua New Guinea, the UK, Kenya, Taiwan, and others are taking a major leap forward with this transition. This is a huge commitment. Currently Fiji still hands out plastic grocery bags and straws a thousand. However, if you look closely there are companies already making the switch to environmentally friendly products.
The Fiji people living in the remote villages have very limited choices when it comes to using plastic versus a sustainable alternative. Most of the time there is no alternative. With no way to refuse plastic, they now must try and reuse it. A plastic water bottle may get refilled a few times, but most likely it will get tossed in the trash after only one use. So now they look towards recycling it. However, in the outer remote islands the recycling process is almost non-existant. When recycling is not an option, it gets burned.
One method I came across while in Fiji was a Precious Plastic machine. Precious Plastics was started in 2013 and is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. They offer details allowing you to make four different machines to recycle and reuse plastic. The tools, knowledge, and techniques are free and shared online. With these machines the locals will be able to collect plastic off of the beach, put it straight into the Precious Plastics machines and turn it into something usable. Such as a keychain which can then be sold to the tourists that come visit the island. This method turns collecting plastic into something of value which can then be sold and removed from the island. Tourists literally take home repurposed plastic with them and get a memorable souvenir at the same time.
Turning glass into sand
Plastic isn’t the only product clogging our coastlines. Glass bottles are also an issue. In Fiji there are recycling centers. However, there is no cash refund for doing so. In Australia, studies have shown, by offering a recycling refund the amount of glass recycled increases. Unfortunately Fiji does not offer a refund. And due to the remoteness of some of the islands recycling is a difficult option.
While I was traveling around Fiji I came across a machine that crushes glass bottles into sand. It’s as simple as putting a glass bottle into the machine and seconds later, sand is produced. This glass crushing machine has been at the Malamala Beach Resort for about 4 months now. The resort crushes an average 1,000 bottles a day. With many more bottles piled up they are putting this simple machine to use. The sand product gets mixed into concrete to aid the resorts building efforts.
A lesson I have learned while traveling overseas is that keeping the environment healthy is a communal effort. Spanning all spectrums of industry, community, and business. No effort is too small. Keep striving to do better and share your environmental story with others. So, they too can help make a change.