Blown out zoris. Plastic motor oil bottles. Plastic drinking bottles of every shape and size. A five-gallon plastic bucket partially filled with some water-logged rust-colored paint. Colorful bits and pieces of ocean-ravaged plastic from all sorts of containers. The occasional aluminum can. Beer bottles. A woman’s high-wedge shoe. Mangled remnants of a fishing net entangled in two-foot long pieces of bamboo floats. Oh, and a used plastic hypodermic needle just waiting to pierce an unsuspecting foot.
Those are just some of the items my son-in-law and I picked up from the shore of my family’s beachfront property up at Jinapsan on a recent Saturday afternoon. The nearly 40 pounds of garbage that we collected had washed in from our sapphire waters because some inconsiderate, uncaring fishermen, ships, or people from other places saw fit to just toss their trash into the ocean or into a river that feeds it, figuring that the currents would carry their waste out of sight, out of mind.
All of that plastic garbage doesn’t just dissolve into the crystal deep of the Marianas Trench. Plastic is one of the banes of our existence right now. We are in the midst of a global plastic waste crisis. According to a June 2018 National Geographic article entitled “Planet or Plastic” by Laura Parker, the world recycles less than a fifth of all the plastic people use. We are worse in the United States. According to the article, we recycle less than 10 percent. Parker’s article states that Jenna Jambeck, a University of Georgia engineering professor, estimated that between 5.3 million and 14 million tons of plastic each year reached the oceans just from coastal regions. “Most of it isn’t thrown off ships, she and her colleagues say, but is dumped carelessly on land or in rivers, mostly in Asia. It’s then blown or washed into the sea,” the article states.
On our tiny emerald dot in the great blue Pacific, we can attest to this. At least I can. One of the drink containers I picked up yesterday was a “Coolish” ice milk container made by the Japanese and Korean multinational conglomerate Lotte.
So what to do about all of this plastic and the other trash that washes up onto our shores from elsewhere? Well, first, one would argue, we need to clean up our own island. We need to get some real island pride going. Pride that makes it unacceptable to throw trash in the boonies, or leave it at the beach or on the roadside after you have a party.
Pride that makes people want to recycle. Pride that makes our Asian visitors go back home and rethink what they do with their garbage so that it doesn’t end up on our sandy shores. Pride and partnerships – with businesses and with the U.S. military bases here, so that we can make recycling large-scale and more economical.
Other things we can do:
Carry and use those reusable grocery bags (Si Yu’os Ma’ase to Payless for its efforts to promote the use of these bags and eliminate plastic grocery bags).
Stop buying cases of plastic water bottles and sport reusable bottles that we fill with tap water because we have faith in Guam Waterworks and the people who work there.
When you have a party, use 5-gallon coolers and paper cups for drinks. How many times have you collected dozens of half-filled plastic water bottles after a party or event? What a waste.
Oh, and when you go to the beach, bring a bag (it’s ironic that in this case, it is usually a plastic garbage bag) to collect trash when you see it. If you have a water softener, though, the salt bags make good trash collection bags. Also, if you buy dog food in quantity, the large dog food bags make good trash bags too.
Collectively, we need to change our island mindset. Plastic is our enemy out here. If we start at home, we can make a difference here and, by setting an example, for our Asian neighbors who visit our island.
It is my hope that in five or 10 years, when I walk along the beach with my grandchildren, we just find pretty shells.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.