Apr 27, 2009

Plastic, Plastic, Everywhere- Does anybody care???

Playa Champerico, Guatemala

After returning to Mexico and driving further south, we have realized that the most pressing issue for the ocean and humanity is not human waste or chemical pollution, but plastic waste.
Plastic has become the number one pollutant in the open ocean, outnumbering plankton 6 to 1 in the North Pacific Gyre (source: Algalita Marine Research Foundation).

Esquintla River, Guatemala

Plastic debris in the ocean is not only unsightly, it is harmful to marine life. Birds, fish, and turtles consume the plastic because it resembles food.

Plastic does not bio-degrade, it photo-degrades, that means it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces. It breaks down to the point at which even plankton consume it, as it slowly sinks to the bottom.
Don't trash this wave, please! Aubrey setting up.

Traveling through Central America, the story is no different: in fact it is the worst we have seen. Local trash collection is often unsatisfactory or completely absent, because it is either voluntary or costs money.

At Playa Zonte in El Salvador, we saw a local man throw a bag of trash onto the beach. We explained to him the problem with plastic in the ocean.

Local ripper Jimmy Rotherham rising above the plastic

Unfortunately, he viewed plastic and leaves in the same category, as “basura” (trash). The local practice is to throw everything into the ocean. Currents drag the trash further out to sea, into the Gyre. As a result, the volume of trash is not obvious on the coast.

In El Salvador, many people cannot afford trash collection, or are unwilling to pay. They believe that the government should take care of it. Because of this, most trash is either burned or thrown to the wayside.

some nice set-ups in El Salvador

Education is a huge factor- the people do not see why plastic pollution is a problem. It has yet to affect them, and their health or their pocketbooks.

Aubrey reading to Jimmy's kids

We are starting by educating the children. Aubrey has been reading a children’s book by Joel Harper, “All The Way to the Ocean”, to local kids. The book explains what trash does when it reaches the sea.
Students of the Traveling School learning Permaculture

Loren also taught a group of girls enrolled in The Traveling School and Introduction to Permaculture. They were all excited at the opportunity to create careers in the environmental field.
Libertad beach clean up

We did see signs of progress in La Libertad. A group of local women were picking up trash along Playa La Paz at Punta Roca. This is a step in the right direction, but a small band-aid at best.

We need to change our thinking about plastic, and see it as a resource. If plastic were worth money, not a single piece would be left on any beach.

A wood gasifier running a tractor. Plastic could be used as a substitute for wood

New technologies are here to use waste plastic. Gasification is not new, though the burning of waste plastic for electricity generation is a new idea. An Australian company named Ozmotech has created a generator to burn waste plastic at high heat to turn a steam turbine, with no exhaust.

Also, a woman in India has figured out how to turn waste plastic of all categories into fuel and high viscosity oil. What if you could clean the beach to run your car!

Plastic is made from petroleum after all. Why not return it and burn it! We can solve two problems with one solution- plastic pollution and the energy crisis.

We hope to find more of this along the way...

We are heading south to Nicargua to see what we can find there. This will be our final destination, and we will turn around retracing our steps and revisiting friends we met and projects we started along the way.

Apr 8, 2009

The Easy Road, and What is Sustainablity?

We have been blessed to take the easy road. We have the means to buy a bus ticket, to get on a plane and fly 3,000 miles down to Mexico. We are able to bring our surfboards, an extra bag full of books, presents, art supplies, special favorite food items and have our personal backpacks stuffed to the brim with lap-tops, cameras and other random gear.

Mexico City- Can it ever be sustainable?

Arriving in Hualtulco’s picturesque palm lined airport we are pleasantly surprised to be greeted by our friend Pepe who has come to escort us back to his home where our Truck and our home on the road, Ellie the Dodge has been awaiting us.

Why are we here again? To share ideas about sustainability? How much carbon have we created to make this journey? How is it we are giving talks about environmental awareness yet we ourselves are sucking up diesel fuel to power our way across borders?

It would be very easy to go on and on about the details of our daily lives that conflict with the mottos of being sustainable. In the end only nature is truly sustainable. We must design systems that mimic nature, regenerating resources rather than depleting them. So, we continue on…

The bottom line is many of us take the easy road because we can. We use what we have, and maybe that is the best we can do for now. We talked about bailing everything, just riding bikes or kayaking down the coast (hah, talk about new ideas!).

The justification for driving is that we are carrying tools and supplies to do projects, and hope to introduce novel ideas that may improve lives and the environment, thereby offsetting our impacts. Also, reality is we knew we wouldn’t be able to cover as much territory and be as equipped with any other method of transportation.

Once again, there are many ways to do things, there are many ways to live. We are blessed to have choices.

We found that we are not the only ones who chose the easy road. We were disappointed but not surprised to find that the composting toilet we built for Pepe had not been used. He has three other toilets for his 10 cabaƱas and it obviously wasn’t a necessity for him.

But after a week here we were able to talk him into getting it going again and helped him construct a privacy structure for it. It will serve as an extra toilet for his many customers from all parts of the globe.

Privacy structure built from local materials

The "Nature Toilet"

We checked out another property in town that is owned by a man from New Zealand. The only toilet they had on the land was a composting toilet, which they have been using for the last 5 years. They add lime powder (calcareous, or cal) and have not had to empty it yet, and it didn’t smell.
Colorful Composting Toilet

The Slow Sand Water Filter we constructed before we left town last October is still up and running, getting a lot of use from Pepe. Our recent water quality tests turned out good and we have been drinking from it for over a week, with no ill effects.

Tastes Great!

Loren gave a talk and showed a slideshow on Permaculture to an interested group of some traveling Irish and Aussie surfers. They were builders and educators, and hoped to learn more about Permaculture down the road.

Passionate about Permaculture

The Water Bottle Re-fill program has been working as well, and everyone seems to be enjoying the benefits of less plastic being used. The customers are happy to pay less for water, and the business owners happy to earn more money from the repeated sales.

All the while we have been enjoying some fun surf sessions. We were greeted by the familiar transition of coming from a cold climate with white skin, to the scorching blast of the tropical sun that singed our pasty flesh. Those midday surfs will do it! Mornings and evenings are the best working hours- you’re a bit safer from heat stroke.

Stay Tuned! We will be heading further south to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua- in search of good work and good waves!