What a year 2018 was for Mother Earth. The popularity of plastic plummeted as activists around the world raised their voices high and sparked a global discussion about the fight against plastic pollution. Plastic graced the cover of National Geographic’s Planet of Plastic issue in June and hundreds of media outlets followed suit. Just when we were starting to give up hope, the world banded together and slowly but surely began to create a shift away from the use of plastic.
This article highlights some of the surprising communities around the global pioneering this plastic-free movement that will help to save the planet we live on from becoming a plastic jungle.
Masai Mara, Kenya
Ibrahim, the safari driver and guide instructed us to discard the cigarette butt in a waste disposal box he was carrying in the national park area. Up ahead we spotted a herd of lions within a two-kilometre vicinity.
It was the first day on safari and we were rather happy to find out how concerned people are about saving the fragile ecosystem of the national park. Everyone from the janitor in the Mara resort to the teacher at the community school in the Mara village seemed to be well aware of the hazards of using plastic in the region and tried to stick to traditional forms of packaging. The Masai take huge pride in the pastoral lifestyle. Averse to consuming bush-meat, they play a crucial role in conservation efforts here.
Even though poverty is rampant and life is rather difficult at Masai Mara, Kenya, the active effort that goes into ensuring minimal waste and saving the national park from plastic waste is very commendable. The authentic Mara community are dependent on nature’s resources and can do away with plastic at ease. It is the influx of tourists that cause the trouble, told me a shopkeeper at one of the few departmental stores by the Sekenani gate. “We try and teach them as much as we can. We also do not provide plastic straws with cold drinks” he said.
Bengaluru (Bangalore), India
Bengaluru is one of the cities in India which has adopted a plastic-free environment system, thereby curbing waste and its detrimental effects. It is a great initiative taken by the government of Karnataka to help reverse the harmful effects of plastic, and the state has been recognized for its efforts on the ecological arena. Bengaluru is now one of the cleanest metro cities in the country and other cities are on the forefront to follow.
Once recognised for being one of the most polluted coastlines in Southeast Asia, Bali has undergone a huge transformation in the way of plastic reduction as local community groups gather together to find solutions to Bali’s waste management. The island hit a huge milestone at the end of 2018 when Bali Governor, Wayan Koster, announced a ban on single-use plastic that would commence in 2019.
Nowadays the ban has been enforced in major shopping outlets and convenience stores with smaller communities aiming to implement more sustainable solutions for their packaging in the coming months. As innovative enterprises and members of the local community band together we just might see a plastic-free Bali by the end of 2019.
Contributed by Bianca at The Altruistic Traveller. Follow my sustainable adventures on Instagram.
Related reading: Southeast Asian destinations tainted by mass tourism
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Unfortunately, in recent months, Malaysia has received some negative news in regards to waste management. Turns out countries like the US and the UK have been sending their waste to Malaysia because they are both unable and unwilling to process it. Thankfully, Malaysia is no longer willing to accept! They are currently in negotiations with the respective countries and will be much stricter on what they accept from other countries. In fact, they’ve blacklisted the importation of non-recyclable plastics, with more legislation to come, hopefully!
Not only that, they’ve recently pledged to completely ban plastic straws by 2020, (yes, that’s next year!) as well as eliminate all single-use plastics by 2030. This is a huge step for a developing country such as Malaysia, and we are actually the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. Coupled with the growing awareness of the environmental impacts due to waste, a number of zero waste shops have begun popping up all over KL, and Malaysians are actively shopping at them!
Rwanda suffered tremendously following the events of the 1994 genocide, but a great sense of unity and many successful government policies have driven the country out of despair and into prosperity.
The “Clean Rwanda Initiative” is among these government policies. The strategy aims to keep Rwanda in good hygienic condition and, since 2008, has included a nationwide ban on plastic bags. But it isn’t just a lack of plastic bags that keep Rwanda clean, it’s the people themselves.
Every third Saturday of the month, locals come together for “umaganda”, which in the local language of Kinyarwanda means “contribution”. It’s a day of community service, mandatory for all Rwandans between the ages of 18-65. They spend the day cleaning the streets, keeping order in neighbourhoods and discussing important matters of the community.
Rwanda has rules, and unlike many other countries in Africa, here they are followed and respected. There is no garbage on the streets, no dilapidated buildings, and no chaos on the roads. It was one of the things that surprised us the most about Rwanda when we were there in 2017. And it wasn’t just the capital either, the trend carries past the urban population and into the countryside making it a nation to be truly respected for its sustainable practices.
San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala
The village of San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlán is on the frontlines of the movement against single-use plastic in Guatemala. They were the first town in Guatemala to ban single-use plastic such as plastic straws, bags, and styrofoam containers. This happened after their new trash processing plant was halfway full after just 6 months–they had expected it to last for a decade.
To get rid of single-use plastic leaders of the town went from house to house to talk with villagers about waste management and give them reusable containers and bags in exchange for their plastic products absolutely free of charge. This removed the costly burden of expecting villagers to fund their own transition into a less wasteful lifestyle. All of the collected plastic is being used for building materials. Walking around town it’s astonishing to see all the vendors wrapping items in paper and the local ladies carrying around reusable bags.
Samoa, South Pacific
The country of Samoa, one of the South Pacific island nations, has issued a ban on single-use plastic effective January 30, 2019. Samoa is the next country in a long line to pass such legislation after Vanuatu implemented their ban in 2018. Numerous other South Pacific nations are phasing in bans over the next few years.
It is especially important to reduce plastic dependency on tropical islands, where constant winds and frequent heavy rains quickly deposit any litter out to the ocean. With such close proximity to fragile coral reef ecosystems surrounding the islands, the plastic impact is practically tangible.
The issue of waste disposal on islands is also particularly complicated, with a finite amount of space to maintain refuse. There is no doubt that reducing the amount of waste entering an island landfill is the ideal management choice
We wish Samoa well with their plastic ban and have high hopes they will model a reduced plastic lifestyle to the rest of the Pacific. Samoans are especially resourceful and still use woven coconut frond baskets for carrying essentials. Hopefully, they will take the ban in stride, and it likely will be the tourists who need to be reminded to pack their reusable bags.
This is an ongoing collaboration so if you would like to highlight any communities embracing a plastic-free world please contact me for a feature.