BY EMILY TALENTINO
Trash is recognized as a massive problem around the archipelago and there are no simple or easy solutions. The multifaceted issue seems daunting and impossible when all aspects are taken into consideration from recycling to trash disposal and waste reduction to garbage collection, and then add in the challenge of multiple islands and the logistics of transportation between them. However, as Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And that’s exactly the approach that Bocas is taking.
The municipality formed a Comision de Preciclaje (Waste Reduction Commission) dedicated to addressing issues related to solid waste including recycling, reduction of waste, and disposal of trash. This committee has representatives from the local government, NGOs and organizations including the Sea Turtle Conservancy, School for Field Studies, Habla Ya, Fundacion ProMar, Alianza Bocas as well as Bocas residents who want to help be a part of the solution. The group meets weekly with the intention of brainstorming and working collaboratively to protect the environment and beauty of our islands and address these problems. Their collective team effort is already paying off and getting results.
In April of this year, the Consejo of Bocas del Toro, consisting of the five representatives of the archipelago, unanimously agreed to ban plastic bags. The Bocas mayor, Martin Downer, signed the Decree into law and there is now a one year period of education and implementation. Georgina Zamora Quilez of the Sea Turtle Conservancy says the goal of the first year is “to reach everybody through education, outreach and communication. The main goal is to pass the message about the new Decree to the entire population and all stakeholders through different materials and tools to first inform, then create awareness, and finally create responsible citizens with a proactive environmental attitude, standing up for a sustainable relationship with natural resources.” After that initial period, starting in April 2018, stores that give out plastic bags with purchases will receive verbal and written warnings, and starting in July 2018, fines will be given out.
Alejandro Jonah, a representative from the mayor’s office and also on the Commission, informed us that another lesser-known law that was recently enacted was one banning the use of foam and plastic disposable cups for eat-in diners at restaurants. Drinks must now be served in reusable cups or glasses. Another great step forward in the effort to reducing the amount of trash produced on the islands. Additionally, local group Unidos por Bocas, led by Sterling Hopman, has raised funds and built 100 trash containers which are now installed around Bocas Town and emptied regularly by the municipality so that people have a proper place to dispose of their trash.
Despite all of the efforts and education around reducing trash, recycling, and properly disposing of it, there are always those who don’t pay any heed and the local government wants its citizens to help enforce the laws against illegal dumping of trash and littering. People are encouraged to take a photo or video (or find a second witness who may remain anonymous to corroborate) if someone is illegally dumping trash or littering, note the date and time, and bring this information to the local corregidor.
All of these small steps and efforts are resulting in a much greater impact in which citizens are engaged and educated, long-term solutions address root causes of the waste issues, and Bocas del Toro is a cleaner, more beautiful home for us all.
So as a tourist or resident here in Bocas, what can you do?
- Reduce your waste! Say no to plastic bags, straws, bottles, and other disposal plastics that end up in our waters or are burned.
- Start now! Plastic bags may still be around in Bocas for another year but you can start having a positive effect now. Bring your reusable bag to the store.
- Dispose of your trash properly. Look for the new white trash bins around town that were built by Unidos por Bocas and are emptied by the municipality regularly.
- Be vigilant! If you see someone littering or illegally dumping trash, ask them to dispose of it properly. If they don’t respond, report them to the local authorities