Teaching the Future of Dominica About More than Just Marine Life

Plastic bottles on the beach in Dominica.

Recently I saw a satirical commercial about the infamous plastic water bottle, demonstrating that even though said bottle may be labeled with ‘green’ language, that doesn’t mean the product actually has less impact on the environment.

The plastic has still been created and will be a part of our environment, in pieces large and small, for generations to come.

The plastic can and does end up in the oceans, often being ingested by marine life, resulting in that unfortunate creatures’ demise.

The commercial shines a light on the marketing techniques used to create the sense that the plastic bottle you are enjoying filtered water in isn’t so bad for the environment after all.

A little label on the bottle says ‘made from plants’, not mentioning that the legitimacy of the claim can be made by the addition of some undisclosed amount ethanol (made from corn, yes, indeed a plant) in manufacturing the plastic.

However, this does not mean the container is manufactured from 100% benign plant products nor is there mention that the plastic is still non-biodegradable.

Addition of ethanol or not, is this really better for the environment? Combine the above with the low chance of the plastic actually being recycled, with factors including where the water was consumed, and each of these bottles continue to add up, filling in landfills or becoming marine debris. Don’t get me started on plastic bags.

The concept of putting green messages on products such as plastic bottles is a tactic referred to ‘greenwashing’.

Being aware and educated on the realities of what it means for any product to be produced in a environmentally low impact way, or what it means to be truly biodegradable, recyclable or made from ‘green’ sources, is an important step in finding a path to solve the huge problem that plastic is creating for our oceans and our planet.

It’s time to go beyond the label, and know what you are really buying in to.

Seeing this ‘commercial’ brought me back to an issue I recently learned about here in Dominica.

A few months ago, a decision was made by a local company to stop bottling products here on the island. Instead of using glass bottles that can be returned for a deposit and be reused at their plant, the products are now imported in plastic bottles from another island.

The impacts of such a seemingly small decision are far reaching, and may eventually affect the people and environment of the entire island.

The immediate impact was the closing of the plant, resulting in the loss of jobs for the workers and loss of the workers income to the island’s economy.

Considering there is also currently no recycling on the island, and more plastic is now being brought into circulation, only to be placed in landfills once discarded, this will also result in an increase in pollution both on the island and the amount of marine debris in the ocean.

One of the Floating Classroom lessons is focused on marine debris. Over their term, students participate in beach cleanups, compiling detailed lists of the types and amounts of debris collected.

The overwhelming majority of the materials are some form of plastic.

Sadly, this isn’t surprising, either here or practically any beach you may find in the world today. Shortly after embarking on the first research cruise for the Floating Classrooms project, a few of the students and I were talking about sperm whales.

Suddenly, one of the boys pointed and shouted, “Marine debris!” There floating in the water was a plastic bottle. I was impressed that he was so observant and took the initiative to point it out to the rest of us.

I was also sad that we had not been on the water for more than 10 minutes without encountering plastic floating on the water. We spent some time talking about why trash is so bad for the ocean and its animal residents. This conversation was peppered with more announcements of marine debris sightings…

I wondered how long it will take for this child to see the impact of the recent decision to stop bottling on the island, one that may sacrifice the good of the majority and environment, for the monetary bottom line of a few?

The boy is 10 now, by the time he is a teenager, would it be impossible for him to not see some type of plastic along the road he walks to school?

Could the increase of plastic in the ocean around his island home affect his food sources? Learning so much about marine debris this term, does he have a greater sense of what the future may be like when the oceans and island are overrun with plastic waste?

Granted, this isn’t the only source and cause of excessive plastic on his island home, but the decision to stop bottling here certainly has the potential of making it worse.

This is a beautiful Caribbean island, boasting amazing, diverse marine life in its waters, and many people who are proud of and care about their natural resources.

Perhaps it’s easy to think that a pollution problem here or in the surrounding waters doesn’t affect those of us living so far away, why should we care?

But we are all sharing one ocean, and one person’s plastic waste can become another’s problem. What choices we make, wherever we live, and also just as important, what choices corporations make, whether on a small island or a large country, affect us all in the end.

Perhaps it’s time to think again about that plastic water bottle, about what you read on the label that made you feel safer in choosing it versus an alternative. It really does matter.

I bet it matters to him.


For more information about the International Fund for Animal Welfare effort to save animals in crisis around the world, visit https://ifaw.org

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