This post is also available in: Español
Most of us are painfully aware that there is a pollution crisis in Puerto Escondido. There’s plastic and trash in the streets, on the beaches, and in the ocean.
Apart from being an eyesore, it is hazardous to the environment and human health. Marine pollution kills marine life. It is up to each of us to prevent trash and plastic from ruining our environment, and us.
Over time, plastic is broken down into microplastics, particles that are less than five millimeters in width. Microplastics come from various sources such as plastic bags, packaging, and plastic bottles. They are released into the environment through poor waste management, littering, and runoff from landfills.
Extensive research is revealing how microplastics are harmful to human health. The tiny particles enter the human body through ingestion or inhalation. They can cause inflammation, oxidative stress, and even DNA damage that increases the risk of various diseases, like cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The Hull York Medical School found that the levels of microplastics that people ingest cause cell death, allergic response, and damage to cell walls. “Harmful effects on cells are in many cases the initiating event for health effects,” says Evangelos Danopoulos, a systematic reviewer at the school.
Microplastics are harmful to the environment in various ways. Inevitably they are washed into our waterways and the ocean. They are ingested by aquatic animals and organisms, resulting in physical harm and death. They also damage water quality by releasing chemicals and pollutants, destroying aquatic habitats and life. According to the United Nations Environment Program, microplastics harm entire ecosystems on land by entering the food chain.
The pollution in Puerto Escondido is a result of tourism and inadequate education. Thousands of visitors arrive here and struggle to dispose of waste responsibly. They don’t know how to recycle because it’s not clearly indicated. Most tourists don’t have a flask for water or a keep-cup for coffee. Their plastic bottles and polystyrene cups end up in the trash.
At times, tourist numbers are so high that the waste disposal system is incapable of removing all the extra waste. The beaches become crowded, and there are never enough trash bins. By nightfall the beach is littered and ugly.
Unfortunately, the trash doesn’t always make it to the municipal dump. Some trash is so badly binned on the street that it never makes it to the garbage trucks. If the trucks don’t always arrive on schedule, that makes it easier for trash to drift down the street. Some of it flies off the back of trucks onto the side of the road, or is blown into streams and rivers, and eventually makes its way into the ocean.
In most elementary schools, children are taught how to recycle, but a lot of schools don’t put their teaching into practice. They don’t recycle. The schools don’t talk to children’s parents about recycling, so the information doesn’t leave the classroom.
There are those of every nationality who just don’t care, and deliberately pollute the environment.
There are solutions but it requires effort from each and every one of us.
And there are plenty of options for recycling.
• Two of the most convenient recycling options are the Puntos Nit Nambii recycling containers. One is at the Agencia Municipal, on the corner of the Coast Highway and 3a Norte. The second one is on Zicatela Beach in front of the giant abandoned concrete apartments, on the east end of Calle del Morro.
Here people can recycle PET bottles; HDPE or high-density polyethylene bottles (hard plastics like liquid detergent or shampoo containers); PP or polypropylene bottles (electrolyte bottles); aluminum cans, paper and cardboard.
• Jungla Plástica is a recycling center that was built from scratch by Jesús Castaneyra, his father Margarito Castaneyra and Marcelo Crespi. For over nine years these men have devoted an enormous amount of time and effort to build a non-profit social enterprise that today is a thriving recycling program.
Jesús asks people to bring everything recyclable here, except glass, and leave it at their door. He says it helps if people separate their items. Jungla Plástica recycles soft plastic like plastic bags and wrapping.
Jungla Plástica, Calle 6a Nte. 205, Centro. Phone: Jesus – 954 130 7061
• Costa Verde recycles most items, including glass. They even pay for quantities of plastic, paper and cardboard. They are open daily except Sunday from 9 am until 4 pm, and 9 am to 1 pm on Saturdays.
Calle Mar de Bering, next to Refaccionaria Cristian, Colonia Benito Juárez. Phone: Eliza – 954 126 4479
In addition, there are several plastic bottle bins dotted around Puerto. You just have to keep your eyes open for them.
Meanwhile, in La Punta Travis King has worked tirelessly to set up plastic bottle collection points. Travis founded Sostenible_pe, organized meetings between local businesses, and persuaded them to act together to deal with an alarming amount of single-use plastic bottle waste.
La Punta has been overwhelmed by young tourists and digital nomads since the onset of COVID. Most newcomers are unaccustomed to Puerto’s intense heat and they drink a lot of bottled water.
Travis collects all the plastic from the bins every Monday and takes it to a main collection point. It is then removed by Jungla Plástica.
In an effort to deal with one of the main sources of plastic pollution – bottled water, Travis persuaded several businesses to install free water refill stations, where tap water is run through an eco-filter. These stations are becoming more popular throughout Puerto and have reduced the use of plastic bottles.
Another way to combat plastic and trash pollution is by spreading the word. A lot of people don’t realize how harmful litter is. A subtle hint, or a polite conversation explaining that plastic harms our environment, our oceans, and us, can have a huge effect.
It may be challenging to be the lecturer, but for the love of our environment and for humanity, do we have any choice?
Patrick Sheehy is an Irishman who has been living in Puerto Escondido, on and off, since 2005. He has a degree in psychology and experience in various fields including teaching, tour-guiding, writing, working with adults with intellectual disabilities and organic horticulture.
This post is also available in: Español