The Bahia Ballena Plastic-Free Initiative seeks to reduce and discourage the consumption of single-use plastics, which are used for a few minutes then discarded in our community. Examples of single-use plastics are the following: such as plastic straws, plastic bottles, plastic bags, coffee removers, and disposable tableware. Once in the environment, plastic never degrades but rather breaks into smaller pieces and remains in the environment for hundreds of years, suffocating our oceans and negatively affecting its our biodiversity. This community initiative aims to raise awareness of the impact of plastic on marine and coastal environments and their biodiversity through a change in culture in the local population, in its businesses, and its visitors. We are working on promoting and providing alternatives and viable solutions to meet the needs covered by plastic with the use of other environmentally-friendly materials.
History of the Bahia Ballena Libre de Plástico
In previous posts, we discussed the origin of the Bahia Ballena Libre de Plástico, as well as some exciting projects we had achieved. We started 2018 with the development of environmental interpretation programs. Two talks were given to twenty-nine students from the Case Western Reserve and Ohio Wesleyan universities of the United States. The students were part of a beach cleanup in the Marino Ballena National Park and then they were able to complement the observations of the activity with a training on the impact of plastic on ecosystems and on human health. Additionally, 43 American students and their respective teachers from French Broad River Academy and Fragminghan State University received a training to raise awareness of the issue of plastic, its impacts, and possible individual and collective solutions.
Who’s involved in the Bahia Ballena Libre de Plástico?
The actors involved in this initiative are the business members of the Costa Ballena Chamber of Tourism and commerce (supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, bars, stores) and other businesses in the region known as Costa Ballena, located between Dominical and Ojochal. In addition, the initiative is working on educational campaigns in schools, colleges, volunteer groups, and in the community. Another objective has been to support the administration of the local Marino Ballena National Park in the incorporation of regulations regarding the entry and use of single-use plastics inside the protected area. We have also started working in conjunction with the Municipality of Osa and the office of environmental management.
In addition to the training for exchange groups, we have been able to train the teachers of the Flor de Bahía school. And with the four-grade children from that school, in the next weeks we’ll be working on a puppet play about the impact of plastic on marine life, which will be presented at the Student Arts Festival in June. In the same way, with that same school we support the school to hold a free-use plastic cooperative meeting and all the tableware used was biodegradable. All the park rangers of the Marino Ballena National Park of the Osa Conservation Area (ACOSA) have already been trained about the initiative. The idea is to modify and update the regulations for public use and establish a ban on single-use plastic in the park. It is essential that they have all the knowledge that allows them to more efficiently comply with the new measures that they wish to incorporate into the protected wild area.
Alternatives to single-use plastic
In the different businesses, viable alternatives and solutions have been promoted to meet the needs covered by the plastic, with the use of other products made of biodegradable environmentally friendly materials. From 2017 to May 2018, seventy-one businesses, tour agencies, hotels, restaurants, supermarkets and service sector have signed the pledge and are part of the initiative. All those businesses have implemented new measures to refuse and reduce single use plastic products as much as possible. The workers and owners have received materials and training about the cost-benefits of these biodegradable products and the issue of plastics in general, providing them with the knowledge and tools to be able to communicate and explain to their customers and suppliers the importance of supporting an initiative that is so committed to the environment.
Products such as plastic straws, cutlery, glasses, bottles, bags and containers to carry of styrofoam and plastic have been replaced in many businesses by biodegradable products made from corn starch, sugarcane bagasse, polylactic acid. The Initiate have created an alliance with suppliers of biodegradable products and for each purchase of each business using the #bahiaballenalibredeplastico code, the Initiative receives a small commission, which allows us to receive an income every month and continue working in the project.
Increasing recognition for the Bahia Ballena Libre de Plástico
Another very important achievement of the work done by the Initiative and the Municipality of Osa has been to declare Osa as the first district in Costa Rica to be free of single-use plastic. The work with the Municipality began in February with the training of all its collaborators about the Initiative, objectives, work plan and awareness of the impact of plastics on marine and human life and creating joint work strategies. Likewise, training was given to the members of the County Inter-institutional Council of Osa, where nineteen representatives from different institutions. These actions are intended to add actors from the various businesses in the area to our program and, in this way, support and help the conservation of the seas.
The work done by the Initiative has been so recognized at the national level that we have trained and helped other communities and institutions interested in incorporating a similar program. An example of them has been the meeting with members of the State University at a Distance and the program of Sustainable Turrialba that want to multiply the effects made in Bahia Ballena in their community considering their own needs. However, at the international level we have also been able to give an interview with the Oxygen Magazine of Spain about the work of the Initiative in the community and the achievements made in these year of work.
Using the media and technology, through our Facebook page which has the support of over 2,000 followers, we promote businesses which are part of the change and which take actions to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic. On this page is a link where people can enter and sign the pledge to be part of the initiative to later get in touch with them. In the same way, we are constantly publishing about national and international news related to the impact of plastic, biodegradable products available in the market and photos in general, creating awareness of the impact we are causing to ecosystems. The initiative in conjunction with the media and radio fusion production company, Imagination Media, developed a short documentary to help disseminate the efforts that have been made to reduce the consumption of single-use plastic, create awareness and encourage many other coastal communities to initiate similar projects for the protection and conservation of the sea and its marine life. In addition, geographical information systems and GPS have been used for the creation of a map of all the businesses that have signed the commitment and are part of the single-use plastic-free initiative, encouraging tourists to visit all those business during the holidays in the community.
Celebrating World Ocean’s Month
And finally, within the framework of the month of the environment and as the celebration of Osa as the first plastic-free district, the initiative, in conjunction with the municipality, are organizing the Ecotlón Osa 2018 on June 10. This activity will consist of massive collection of waste in Osa districts in the urban, terrestrial, and marine-coastal environment using different disciplines (snorkel, kayaks, dives, races, walks). This event is to celebrate World Ocean’s Month and is expected to be very well attended.
Written by Lucia Murcia Cordero, director of the Bahía Ballena Libre de Plástico