I would bet that most of you reading this blog have seen Fiji bottled drinking water in a store near home.
In the departures area of the Toronto airport on our first flight out on Sept 2nd we saw a whole row of the very attractive Fiji water bottles lined up in a store. To me, the concept of single-use plastic drinking water bottles is rather preposterous, except in some limited situations. All the oil and chemicals and energy to make the plastic … then you pay to purchase water (sometimes more per litre than gasoline) …. then what happens to the empty bottle? And that’s assuming the water was bottled somewhere close by. What’s the carbon/transportation footprint if the water was bottled somewhere REALLY far away … like, say, Fiji? We noted in Toronto that day that we’d have to investigate more once we reached Fiji.
Yvonne mentioned in her last blog about finding a pile of plastic bottles on the deserted beach we camped on during our kayak trip. In fact, along the tree line of that 50m section of beach, we pulled out between 50 and 100 bottles! Most of them were water bottles. And of those, a pile were Fiji drinking water bottles. Read the label of the Fiji water bottle, and it sells itself as water from beautiful, natural Fiji. So the irony of finding these bottles littering the gorgeous beaches of Fiji is not insignificant.
A couple of days later we visited some caves and did a picnic lunch on a deserted island. Gorgeous beach, but the seaward side of this island too had hundreds of plastic bottles mixed into the driftwood.
Fijian beaches are still absolutely stunning. And unless you poke around the top of the beach, you could miss the plastic debris. But the kayak and cave beaches got us a bit worked up about plastic bottles in the ocean, so we decided to explore a bit more. Rhonda had the idea of engaging the local kids in and around Tavewa island in beach cleanups which would serve the secondary (and perhaps more important) cause of education. Henry says that there isn’t much awareness in villages about the disposal of plastic bottles, nor is there any recycling or waste management infrastructure (beyond digging a hole in the back yard).
We wrote emails to Fiji water, Coca cola (who sells most of the soft drinks in Fiji) and the 2nd biggest bottled water company in Fiji (AquaPacific), asking them what they do to help people properly recycle their bottles. We also asked them if they would take the bottles off our hands for proper recycling if we could get them to mainland Fiji (in Lautoka). Fiji Water & AquaPacific brushed off the emails, saying that they would accept only their own bottles if we brought them to port, and that otherwise we should check in with the resorts to see what they are doing. Fiji water is by the way owned by a company based in Los Angeles. At least Coca cola responded, saying they would
accept all plastic bottles for recycling, and would even pay an incentive for their bottles. I asked how they recycle them, and learned that they ship them to Hong Kong! On a side note, we learned later that a company in Hong Kong is starting to make diesel from plastic bottle recycling ….
We decided to put our money where our mouths are and clean up the beach closest to Henry’s house. In a stretch of beach about 150m long, we found about 3 garbage bags full of bottles. Doesn’t sound like much, but do a bit of mental math … 3 bags from 150m, and there are probably hundreds of km of beach in Fiji ….!!!
The million dollar question of course is “where do all these bottles come from?” This really is a two part question. First, from how far have these bottles come?, and second, how did they end up in the ocean? To answer the first question, we separated our bottles into 4 piles: Fiji water, coca cola (and their subsidiary drinks), Aqua Pacific, and all others (labels and come off many of them).
From this we made the conclusion that on our beach, most bottles entered the ocean in Fiji. As to how they got in the ocean …. we really have little idea. We know some come from villages, because we saw them around villages. But Fijians in villages do not drink Fiji drinking water. So some are being dropped by tourists … some likely blow off ships … some blow in from mainland resorts and towns … who really knows?
Rhonda and family neighbour Merle will pursue some cleanup after Christmas (all kids are back at home) and are ordering some large bags from coca cola on mainland Fiji. Hopefully it will spawn off other similar projects. A recent email from Rhonda suggests that even the more promising responders (coca cola Fiji) are dragging their heels in terms of getting the proper collection bags to her, though.
Clearly, the problem of plastics in the ocean is HUGE. Thanks to my friend Tony for passing this link to me for a recent Toronto Star article on larger problem of ocean plastic http://torontostar.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/iphone/homepage.aspx#_articleb8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca/waarticleb8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca/b8313a9a-442b-4e39-8a7a-75218fd4aeca//true/plastics
The authors’ conservative estimate indicates there are more than 5 trillion pieces of floating plastic in the ocean – that’s more than 700 pieces per each of the world’s 7 billion people! The floating islands of plastic that have formed in the Pacific ocean are well known.
The carbon associated with the production and distribution of plastic bottles is enormous.
Solutions are emerging. Recycling infrastructure around the world is improving. We watched a “Ted talk” on Youtube at Henry & Rhonda’s where a call is made for a global deposit system. Very few jurisdictions have these in place, mostly because of a strong lobby against from the single use plastic bottle companies.
I have a sense that consumers are slowly realizing the impacts of plastic bottles, and looking to see how far away it was bottled. Really … how the heck did Fiji bottled water end up in Canada? Like we don’t have enough clean water in Canada?
But we have such a long journey ahead before we can walk beaches without stumbling over plastic bottles. I always do a mini unit on the impacts of plastic drinking bottles, but I think I will pursue the issue of global plastic pollution even more next year in class. And we’ll keep an eye out for plastic as we swim and snorkel from other beaches/countries on this journey.