When you buy the least little thing in Panama, you receive it in a plastic bag. Sometimes, more than one bag. True, these bags are usually re-used by the consumer – at least once. Usually to contain trash. Then they go to the dump.
In the Azuero, near Las Tablas, the dump is on the road to Uverito. It’s not very large, and it’s right on the coast. When there are storms or high tides, the trash washes out to sea and then floats back in to decorate the beaches.
Or they burn it. You can often see clouds of dark nastiness rising from the dump, and if you live in Uverito, you can certainly smell it. Your only escape is to go inside, close all openings, turn on the AC and hope for the best.
It’s not just Uverito that gets this treat, though. Although most of the smell is gone by the time it reaches Las Tablas, reach it, it does.
And that smoke contains the waste of thousands of burning plastic bags. And burning plastic water bottles. I can’t prove it, but the incidence of cancer, asthma and related respiratory diseases seems to be rising here. I have never before known so many people with these types of health problems.
What to do about the dump is an issue that plagues the local city fathers. They have tried banning the burning, but we just wound up with trash stacked up from the water’s edge to across the highway. And they HAD to burn it then. Various solutions for moving the dump, for creating land fill, etc., etc., have been suggested, but none seem truly feasible.
The only real solution is to reduce the amount of trash we produce. Plastic bags are a good place to start.
Costa Rica’s ban on plastic bags has been a while coming. The populace has been gradually trained to use cloth bags, and while that may be only a partial solution, it’s certainly a good start. When I lived there a few years back shopping bags were available at the grocery store. If you forgot to bring the ones you had already bought, you simply bought some more, because the stores didn’t maintain a supply of free bags for their customers. I still have two of the bags I bought there. I find them useful for all sorts of things. And they are obviously long-lasting.
Terri Farrar, wife to the previous US Ambassador to Panama, is a tiny dynamo who believes in recycling. I once attended a party at her home where she drew many of the lady guests into one of the living rooms and gave an animated lesson on crocheting plastic bags into useful items. Yesterday, faced with a serious oversupply under my kitchen sink, I decided to “put my money where my mouth is” and spent an hour cutting up bags to make “plarn” (plastic yarn) so I can make myself a shopping bag. Various tutorials on the ‘net suggest it will take around 60-70 bags to do that, but at 20-30 bags per trip, that’s only a few sorties to the store. (A very thorough set of instructions for making a shopping bag can be found at Yarn Forward, which also provided the photo.)
So no, my effort won’t cut back the supply to the dump by much, but how do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Attention Local Ladies or Gentlemen: Anyone who wants to learn how to crochet plastic bags is welcome to contact me (use the website contact form unless you already have my email address). We can have a party and make some bags. Happy Thanksgiving!
Here is an excerpt from a CentralAmericanData.com article about Costa Rica’s new law. Click the headline to read the entire article:
The statement by the Legislature indicates that “… This initiative was presented by former representative from the Frente Amplio party José María Villalta Florez-Estrada and in addition to a ban on plastic bags, also establishes a fine ranging from 20 to 200 base salaries for breaching the law.
“Article 44 bis – Ban the handing out of disposable plastic and non biodegradable bags to final consumers in supermarkets and other retail outlets, as they generate waste which is highly polluting and difficult to manage. Instead, traders must make available to the public bags made of cloth and other materials which are for permanent use or totally biodegradable bags.
Exceptions to this prohibition are in cases where for medical, conservation or food preservation reasons it is not feasible to use alternative packaging. The regulations of this law will define these cases, based on technical criteria.
The use of plastic bags will be allowed only if they are created under technological procedures that give them a biodegradable quality. The Ministry of Health, in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications, will determine the technological parameters that plastic bags must have in order to be defined as biodegradable. “…”