Looking at Dome's Beach from El Faro Park

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reducing Single Use Plastics in Puerto Rico

I've written about a few of the problems of waste on this island;  landfills filling up, more waste per capita than mainland US, recycling rates far below US and other countries, no bottle deposits and not enough equipment to recycle the amount of bottles and glass discarded, plastic being shipped off island to be recycled and an unwillingness of municipalities to tax or increase the cost of waste disposal, but all of these things pale in comparison to the overwhelming problem of single use plastics.

Everywhere plastic bags are being used as if they grow on trees, very low lying, high yield trees. A trip to the market of a small cart of groceries and you can come back with 20-30 bags, that is if you don't use re-usable bags, and very few people do here.  Ley 38, passed in 2010 was drawn up to require every retail establishment that used plastic bags to provide, carry out and document recycling og those plastic bags.  It also required those establishments to provide alternatives to plastic (re-usable bags for sale).  The law was in response to a "Ban the Bag" proposal that supposedly would have placed a burden on consumers and retailers alike by forcing them to provide other means to transport their purchases.  But Law 38 isn't being enforced.  Our local Econo used to have a bag recycling station, but that is gone, they used to sell re-usable bags, but those are gone too.  I see these bags on the streets everywhere, floating in the wind or spilling over the public trash cans at the beaches, installed by Surfrider Rincon.

Reduciendo la Huella Plastica Rincon is a group of concerned volunteers, myself included, who are working to reduce single use plastics in Rincon.  Their activities include raising awareness, increasing enforcement of anti-littering laws, educating the public and meeting with government officials, ministers and local business owners to work out solutions.  Key in this process is Ernie Alvarez, who circled the island of Puerto Rico on a stand up paddle board to raise wareness of the plastics problem in our ocean with a group called Plastic Free Oceans.  Ernie recently spoke to over 200 Rincon school kids as part of the Rincon Recycling Club, telling them that the plastic water  and soda bottles they discard are assassins, killing marine life at an alarming rate.  It is up to them to change the habits of their families and recognize the problems their generation will face if changes aren't made, immediately!

The plastic problem certainly isn't confined to Puerto Rico, but this is where I live and where I can make an impact.  I'd love to hear about things you've done to reduce your plastic imprint or if you have any ideas to expedite the process of reducing the use of single use plastic in Rincon.  Thanks!


  1. Yeah Jim! Good article. Keep doing what you are doing and you will make a difference. The kids are definitely the ones to start with :)

  2. The issue of recycling is la the Legend of Bigfoot and the Eastern Bunny just sillyness

  3. Styrofoam clamshell containers should disappear. If you stop on the road for an arepa you get it in a giant clamshell container which you immediatly open and throw out. It is in your hand for 10 seconds. Subway - a sandwich wrapped in paper, stuffed into a plastic bag with too many napkins which you walk from the counter to the table with and throw it all out. Or in the bakery - a single cookie on a foam plate with a napkin in a bag. I always tell them I want it in my hand and have to argue to get it that way. Then there are the stir sticks, plastic lid and packets of sugar for a mini cup of coffee. I had a discussion with someone at SAMS when I was excited to see an insulated, sturdy, big, inexpensive reusable bag available. The old guy said he'd never use one! Stronger cloth bags don't end up as 10 minutes bags, you don't damage your joints undoing knots and can put more than 2 things in it. I'd be great to get a grant (or know how to sew) to stand in the stores and provide a free cloth sturdy bag to some of the older people. I think they wouldn't go back once they tried them. OR have plastic bags be half as tall, twice as strong and able to hold a half dozen things. When a store first gets to know you they put everything in plastic bags and then inside the cloth ones. They just don't get it!

  4. just linked this article on my facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

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