Plastic Bottle Village
Blog post written by and all images reserved to ambs111
After spending 3 months travelling around beautiful Costa Rica and feeling amazed by the wide variety of wildlife it has to offer, I was also very disappointed with the poor effort to reduce the amount of plastic use and the general need to recycle. I assumed that as their tourism is based on their vast amounts of nature and wildlife then there would be extra effort made, unfortunately I didn’t see this! It’s clear that in many Central American countries there is a real lack of education regarding the effects plastic is having on the planet and it’s very concerning as this is an issue we are all responsible for.
I crossed the border from Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and headed to Bocas Del Toro, the popular group of islands in the north west of Panama. I started my stay in Bocas town on the Isla Colon.
Whilst I recognised that litter is a problem there, I did see a lot more notices and signs by smaller independent business’ about recycling, limiting plastic use, and in every restaurant I went to there were metal or biodegradable straws. It was great to see and definitely a step in the right direction. I visited various beaches, one of which was playa Estrella aka starfish beach. Locals told me, 3 or 4 years ago I would have seen hundreds of giant starfish, however this time I only saw four. As fascinating as they were and despite feeling ever so lucky to see the ones I did, its upsetting to know that with a mixture of rubbish, transport pollution and farce tourists who refuse to read signs that say do not touch, marine wildlife there has dramatically decreased.
On my way back from playa Estrella I noticed some signs for plastic bottle village and was intrigued. I spoke with a local lady and she recommend I go and check it out, so the next day I jumped on the public bus. It’s only a $1 journey from the town centre and the bus boy said he would show me where to get off. I was blown away when I got off the bus and in front of me was a castle built with thousands of plastic bottles. I was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Robert and explained he was the man behind the amazing plastic project. He started apologising to me, and confused I asked why?
He said this; "I’m guilty, I’m guilty because I was the generation that signed this off. I’m part of the generation that only had glass bottles and paper bags, and we agreed, in 1978, we said yes to plastic when we didn’t know the harm it would bring. It’s now not us that are going to have to deal with the effects and for that I’m sorry"
I could see from the minute Robert started talking that he is a very passionate man. Although there is truth in what he said, and yes his generation were around when the change happened, now more than ever, it’s becoming so clear that everyone has to start making change. Coca-Cola and Nestle are two massive companies that are responsible for using PET plastic which stays on the planet for over 450 years. That’s very scary stuff. Plastic that slowly decays and ends up in the ocean are generally consumed by sea life which will then be consumed by humans. A very good point Robert made was that when it came about that tobacco was harmful for health, and the long term affects of smoking were serious, by law tobacco sales were made to have an image on the packaging of what the affects are. Why are companies who use plastic not made to do this? Seeing the heartbreaking images of the damaged oceans and struggling sea life surely will make people more conscious!?
The plastic bottle castle is built with 40000 bottles and not only has Robert and his team built a castle using the bottles but they have also built a jail. This eventually will have rooms in and there will be a stairway from the top of the hill all the way to the jail entrance. His idea is people will come and stay over night in the jail, paying for their contribution to plastic bottles. Afterwards they spend one night in the castle and are personally rewarded with a certificate from him!
As well as being a place that tourists can go and visit, Roberts idea to get local children involved left me feeling very warm-hearted. People who visit can buy sheets of stickers ($5 per sheet) which they can give to local children around the island. The children then go around their neighbourhood and find any plastic bottles, put a sticker on each bottle, take to one of the local shops, and in return they either get things for school or food for their families (rice, beans etc). A brilliant incentive and way to get communities on board and raise awareness amongst local people.
In some ways this visit was bittersweet as I had the realisation of the damage that’s being caused, however the fact there is people so eager to make change with such positive ideas was great to see. If one man can do this imagine if we all start making change! Robert was a very inspirational guy and I feel lucky to have met him. So If you’re taking a trip to panama I highly recommend visiting the plastic bottle village!
Robert and his team are aiming to have the jail ready and on booking.com in 2019 so definitely check out their website and social pages for more information
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By Team GG