Welcome To A Plastic Free Bonaire. What’s Your Favorite Sauce?

Tomato, mayonnaise, garlic, barbecue . . . . as I empty the last remaining drops of my favorite sauce, watching them disappear, thoughts focus on the empty plastic bottle in my hand, and I wonder how many of us think about what happens to the container when we’re finished using it?

What arrives on Bonaire destined for the grocery store shelves is packaged in plastic and plastic pollution is such an enormous problem around the world that we’ve only just begun to realize how it will affect all aspects of the environment and society for generations and decades, maybe centuries to come.

In a recent study, it’s estimated that we have less than ten years to change what we have done or the damage to our oceans may be irreversible.

Bonaire is not immune to this environmental disaster. Even with years of beach cleanups,  it’s horrifying to walk parts of the east coast or along Klien Bonaire and see what’s washing ashore.

So what can one person do for Bonaire that will help rid this storm of plastic waste that is accumulating?

The problem is bigger than one NGO can tackle, one government organization, one business or one individual. In Bonaire’s case, it will take the island to change so that we don’t leave our plastic waste for future generations.

And for many of us looking down that grocery store isle at all the plastic . . . . it’s over-whelming.

That’s the reason A Plastic Free Bonaire was started.

But it was started on the foundation of others before me. Elsemarie Beukenboom seeing a need to do something about garbage on the beaches started organizing beach cleanups 12 years ago. Roland Verbeek at Bonaire Logistics started promoting reusable bags 10 years ago. And Dive Friends has been organizing dive cleanups since 2007. Bonaire has a impressive history of organizations and individuals pursuing environmental conservation activities.

Just recently, the MPB, Bonaire’s current government seeing the seriousness of single use plastic pollution passed a ban on plastic bags, straws and styrofoam containers starting January 2020. The policy will undoubtedly be the start of many changes in the coming years that will help reduce our dependency on single use plastics.

It’s a small step and a good start. But it will take more than this one policy change. It will take more government action, corporate responsibility, both small businesses and individuals like you and me to clean the up the mess that’s been created.

We can’t afford to use something once, be it plastic, glass, cardboard or tin–then throw it away as if it never existed.

I believe we’re still being too complacent. Where is our common sense approach to a sustainable “blue” tourist destination when I see local grocery stores stocked with cases of plastic bottled water stacked, ready to sell to tourists when WEB successfully gives us pure drinking water from our faucets? It just doesn’t make sense.

So what is A Plastic Free Bonaire? You’re saying there shouldn’t be any plastic used on Bonaire? 

No. Not at all. That would be unrealistic. What I’m saying is that plastic is not bad per se. It’s how we’re using it. We can’t afford to use something once, be it plastic, glass, cardboard or tin–then throw it away as if it never existed.

But I’ve been recycling for years . . . 

Recycling has been a common house-hold word in most places for almost twenty years and still we’re seeing an increase in plastic pollution on Bonaire and in the surrounding ocean. Recycling is only part of the answer.  We should not be led to believe it is thee answer to the plastic pollution crisis.

We know plastic continues to be the choice of manufacturers and distributors because of its strength, weight and versatility. Consequently, it’s the most widely used material in the packaging industry and HDPE–the type used to make bottles like my favorite sauce came in and the containers found on our supermarket shelves–is the most commonly used plastic. It’s continually being produced yet it’s unsustainable.

There are alternatives. But to stop the flow of plastic pollution will take the action of many starting with one. We need to turn the tap off by stopping the production. And to stop producing we need to stop the demand. To stop the demand we need to start with us here on Bonaire. There are choices and alternatives that we can use without giving up the conveniences we’ve grown accustom to.  In a recent study, it’s estimated that we have less than ten years to change what we have done or the damage to our oceans may be irreversible.

The MPB’s decision to ban 3 single use plastics is a positive step in the right direction but there is more that needs to be done. Europe is placing a ban on 10 single use plastics by 2021France is banning plastic cups, plates and cutlery by 2020. Dominican Republic is banning all common plastics and Styrofoam effective January 2019.

As an environmentally friendly, sustainable destination, the sight of plastic polluted shorelines, sea life entanglements, and an over-flowing landfill leaves no one untouched. It is my hope that by working together for a plastic free Bonaire we can eliminate single use plastic and be a leading example for other islands and countries.

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