The Plastic Beach

Where does our garbage go?


Where is away?

We consume, we consume, we consume.  We bring home our pretty new things wrapped in packaging that is thrown away.  When our pretty new things are no longer pretty we throw them away too.

At home I feel more in control of my part in this cycle.  We can compost, grow our own food, buy in bulk with our reusable bags, choose things with less or no packaging, make our own laundry soap, buy natural soap in bulk from a local soap maker, step off the consumer treadmill and buy second hand and a hundred other things that have become part of our everyday lifestyle.  Reducing our garbage has been my ‘thing’ for the past few years.  I’m passionate about it.

Here in Asia it’s a different story. I am having a hard time with all of the garbage we are producing but I am finding it difficult to reduce it.  I don’t have access to a compost, products that I can buy and feel good about at home are not available here, and everything is incredibly over packaged. When I go to the market, if I am not fast enough to catch the sellers before they reach for the plastic, each type of fruit is put into its own plastic bag and then all the little bags go into a big one.  Almost all the fruit and vegetables at the grocery store are pre-wrapped in plastic, even the bananas! We can’t drink the water out of the tap and so the bottled water that I would NEVER buy at home becomes a necessity here.

The road sides are filled with litter and the tropical rains push that litter into the waterways.  The waterways push it into the ocean where it circles in the tides, gets washed up on beaches or joins all the other tonnes of garbage in the gyers.

This was what the beach at Nai Yang looked like the other day:

The plastic beach.

The tide had brought in a slew of garbage.  The beach was still packed with tourists.  On their way to the ocean people just stepped over the lines of debris the waves had carried in.  I wondered how many people on the beach were truly disgusted and empowered to make changes in their lives and how many were hoping the next tide would wash the garbage back out so the beach would be pretty again.

We spent some time cleaning up about a thirty foot expanse.  Mike borrowed some rakes from the nearby restaurant and I sorted through the piles he made, picking out what I could.

The problem with plastic pollution is that it does not biodegrade, it photodegrades. The sun breaks down the plastic into smaller and smaller pieces.  Those little pieces of plastic are mixing with the sand on our beaches, and becoming toxic food for our marine life.

By the next day the beach was clean again. The tide had swept away the evidence of our throw away society.  Our oceans continue to be our dumping place and we will pay the consequence of our carelessness.

Asia is a hard place to be an environmentalist and that day at the beach empowered me to do better on our travels.  We need to refuse the bag, shop at the local markets where things aren’t pre-packaged, buy large re-fillable water bottles and use them to re-fill our drinking size bottles, bring our own containers, and just generally be aware of waste.  We have already been doing most of these things but I am determined to step our efforts up a notch.  It is certainly not as easy as it is back home for us but every bit helps.

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  1. Renee says:

    Yes! The amount of litter & garbage on the ground is one of the most shocking (and saddest) things I’ve seen on our travels.

    And not just in Asia. I remember tons of plastic bottles in Turkey, and oh, the garbage in parts of Italy made me want to weep. I’ve seen a lot in Mexico here too. Sometimes I see “recycling” cans on the roadsides, but they seem to be filled with regular trash and I’ve never once seen anything resembling a recycling truck.

    It’s all quite shocking after coming from the U.S. & Canada, which are super clean in comparison.

    I hear about about feeling out of control in terms of recycling, but applaud you for recommitting to sound practices, e.g. refusing bags, reusing your own water bottles, etc. You’ve reminded me that my family needs to step it up a notch too.

  2. Rebeca says:

    I hear ya! This is always a hard part of travel for me too. At home we produced so much less trash.

  3. Eryn says:

    Way to go, Amy and fam! I bet all the travellers around you were inspired by your efforts, or at the very least, will give extra thought to the trash. You guys are inspiring…keep us posted on other ways to practice the 3 R’s on your journey!

    1. worldschooled says:

      Thanks Eryn, we are trying!

  4. Alyson says:

    Oh I know! It absolutely sickens me, my pet hate is party bags and little plastic novelties to be played with for 5 minutes. I know it’s bad manners to put a link in a comment, so I won’t, but we’re involved with Tangaroa Blue, a non profit organisation dedicated to cleaning up our oceans, we go out and pick up crap off our beaches,, 100s of Kg every time ,it’s all weighed, counted and sorted and the they try to find ways to decrease future marine debris. If anybody is visiting Australia, look them up, volunteer, it’s brilliant. Google them or visit my blog for a link. Kids can get involved too.
    We always travel with metal water bottles and try to find ways of filling them without buying bottled water, but it’s almost impossible. I saw places in Bangkok to fill up from reverse osmosis water purifiers and we used them on our Anapurna trek. I don’t know if you can find them anywhere else.
    Good on you for having a go! ( watch out for needles!)

    1. worldschooled says:

      Good for you! That sounds like a great project.

      Here on Phuket we found we could get water delivered in those big 20 litre reusable containers and we are using those to fill up our drinking bottles. We have also seen water refilling stations.

  5. HeidiSonjaBodhi says:

    We recently watched Bag It (http://www.bagitmovie.com/) so the question of plastic is more on our minds than usual too. I wonder, though, if our neat and tidy community lulls us into thinking that we make less garbage because we don’t see it accumulate – we make lots of it but we send it out of sight and even out of the country. I wonder if recycling is not the answer and if it may (sadly) be part of the problem. New family focus: Reduction. ((Hugs))

    1. worldschooled says:

      You are totally right Heidi, we don’t see all our own garbage because it gets whisked away once a week but it is most certainly still there. Recycling is not the solution to the problem. We need to first reduce and reuse. Reducing our consumption is the most important thing we can do for the planet.

  6. Nadine Hudson says:

    A big applause to HeidiSonjaBodhi. Reduction should be the focus (i.e. we don’t buy bottled water). Although, over the years of travelling we learnt something new. For many countries having a lot of plastic on the beach is living proof of the progress their country is going through. Empty beaches = nobody has money to consume, dirty beaches = consumer society. Fortunately, the world isn’t black and white and we are never stuck for new lessons to be learned. We’ve cleaned so many beaches, deserts and mountain paths over the years, so we had to smile when we saw you are doing the same, Amy. I think we just can’t help it. Enjoy your travels. Nadine

    1. worldschooled says:

      We have been doing that for years now. We pick up garbage whenever we go for walks at home and will sometimes even go for walks with the sole purpose of picking up garbage. I don’t understand the mindset of people who purposefully litter.

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