Fighting Plastic Pollution in Paradise

Cleaning Up Costa Rica's Beaches

Mother Earth is in trouble and it is because of us. As harsh as that may sound, it is a fact that throughout the centuries we humans have increasingly become the single most destructive influence in the environmental deterioration of the planet.

Pitching in against litter.
The youngest volunteer

Based on an anthropocentric point of view, we have come to see ourselves as the owners of an inexhaustible warehouse called Earth. Philosopher Rene Descartes stated that “the main purpose of modern science is to provide humans with the tools to conquer over matter and become lords and masters of nature.” This attitude has created a massive environmental tragedy.

The ocean, one of our most complex and least understood habitats, is still perceived as a vast, deep garbage dump where millions of metric tons of trash are disposed of every year, not to be seen ever again. Out of sight is out of mind? Sadly, it is not like that at all. Nowadays, beaches and waterways around the world are highly contaminated with all sorts of debris. Plastics, a major component of marine litter, have become a serious threat to fish, seabirds, marine reptiles, marine mammals and to human health. Entire ecologies are at risk.

Even though this destructive process is still going on, in the past 40 years or so there has been a change of attitude towards the issue and the consequences it has on the planet. We have come to realize that man and environment are deeply interrelated and also, how important this interrelation is.

As a result, a new environmental awareness has been growing in most parts of the globe. Thus, instead of being “owners”, we have taken up a new role. Now we are “caretakers”, who have both the necessity and the responsibility of protecting the planet.

Disposable plastic waste
Disposable plastic waste

With its variety of stunning landscapes, protected by a network of national parks and supported by a big, low-impact tourism industry, you would think that Costa Rica is a showcase for many green projects. It is, but in a notorious contradiction to the country’s reputation of being environmentally aware and eco-friendly, trash and littering remain a huge problem. Many Costa Rican beaches are afflicted with it. Places like Tarcoles River stick out like a sore thumb against Costa Rica’s green ideal.

Enter Operación RichCoast. A grassroots, privately-funded project created and led by 2 expats, Julie Vigneault, a Québécoise, and Sandy Schmidt from Germany, this beach clean initiative congregates environmentally minded volunteers in a single purpose: to pick up as much beach garbage as possible.

Plastic Pollution
Plastic Pollution

That is a huge task indeed. Even so, ORC can exhibit some interesting results. On December 30, 2017, the group, working along the people from DescubreCostaRica and Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía (MINAE), collected 125 bags of garbage from the badly polluted Guacalillo Beach, (that until they ran out of bags) without putting a real dent on the mounds of trash. On the same day, around 375 volunteers working on 25 different beaches all over Costa Rica collected an estimate of 450 ten-kilo garbage bags, for a total of 4.5 tons of debris on one single day.

Of course, for the Operación to really make a difference there should be more to ORC than meets the eye. About the organization’s goals and plans for the future, Ms. Vigneault told us that “Operation RichCoast aims to become a platform where a network of like-minded people can discuss plastic pollution and solutions on a national and international level.”

Beach cleans do a lot more than clean up litter. For one, initiatives such as Operation RichCoast raise the public’s level of awareness about this problem. Additionally, they foster a sense of belonging and cooperation in the communities and individuals that take part in them. According to Ms. Vigneault, the response from them has been extremely positive.

Finally, they demonstrate that no matter how much garbage they collect, the problem is so enormous that education is the best strategy to combat pollution. “We want to connect the dots between communities, individuals, and businesses. ORC provides the platform where any beach cleanups/location can be promoted. So a local or tourist, for example, can know if there’s anything happening in his next step of his voyage or simply locally.”

Operacion RichCoast
Operación RichCoast

Asked if they had considered visiting schools and other community centers to let the younger generations know about their work, Ms. Vigneault said “Yes we will in the new year (2018). We want to promote education and propose easy solutions to businesses and individuals.”

“We will work toward getting more involved in the process of cleaning Río Tarcoles – which has been declared the most contaminated and polluted river in Central America.”

Ms. Vigneault indicates that:

Pollution knows no borders so we believe that in uniting people we can become stronger and reach further. We need to understand the global problem we are facing and we can only do so if we look at a bigger picture. Getting data & photos from different places throughout the country gives us this opportunity.”

Schmidt and Vigneault
Sandy Schmidt and Julie Vigneault

If you want to support their effort or just give them a hand, you can get in touch with Sandy at +506 8717 5394 and Julie at +506 8518 9610.

SOURCEGilberto Barrera
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