Searching for solutions to plastic pollution in Belize and Honduras

Every day we read and see shocking images of plastic accumulation in our environment that adversely affects wildlife, habitats and ourselves. To mitigate the crisis, we have been taught to reduce, reuse, recycle and, more recently, refuse plastics. Communities from around the world are taking part in environmental challenges such as Plastic Free July that invite us to be part of the solution to the global plastic waste problem. 

But what is that solution? Creative Action Institute partnered with Sarteneja Alliance for Community Development (SACD) and Blue Ventures in Sarteneja, Belize and Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) in Roatan, Honduras to facilitate community-led searches for viable solutions.

A problem of such magnitude needs a comprehensive solution. It requires a holistic process of analysis and sharing of ideas and experiences to strengthen communities and build consensus. Using creative tools, community leaders are better able to understand the problems, causes, effects and realistic solutions for their own geographical and cultural contexts.

During the weekend of International Oceans Day, Creative Action Institute partnered with SACD and Blue Ventures to implement a 3-day workshop about the single-use plastics ban in Belize. The workshop was designed and planned to engage women who own shops and restaurants, artisans who make jewelry from the invasive lionfish, and staff from participating organizations. The creative tools and skills learned at the training allowed participants to:

  • actively think about their role as Belize phases out single-use plastics and styrofoam, where these convenient but harmful products play a role (e.g., take out food, grocery shopping, large family and community events where food is provided); 

  • what stands in the way of refusing plastics (e.g., cultural norms that make it acceptable; not remembering to bring reusable bags and containers; no available alternatives to plastic utensils); 

  • what stands in the way of recycling plastics and appropriate disposal (e.g., burning trash is widely accepted; waste management systems are limited); and 

  • to address the impacts of plastics and people’s behavior on the environment. 

 Focusing on ways to raise awareness and making refusing plastics and appropriate disposal a new norm, participants created signs with messages about trash management, household waste, and the dangers and toxicity of burning garbage. These signs were placed in strategic locations around the village which sparked community members’ interests for how they could shift their behaviors to create a more sustainable planet.  

Similarly, Creative Action Institute partnered with ELAW to conduct an intensive 3-day environmental clinic in Roatan, Honduras. The participants were female artisans, teachers, lawyers and staff from The Bay Islands Conservation Association (BICA) as well as the Bay Island Development Organization (BIDO). Throughout the clinic, participants collaborated to create a puppet show about the impacts of single-use plastics, a song about the unsafe working conditions of the pepenadores (recyclers) and a theater skit which expressed the negative effects that moving away from ancestral practices has on the environment.

Other issues that were discussed were the lack of environmental education on the island, the need to impose fines for those who pollute the island (for example - cruise ships), and underlying motivations behind beach cleanings including promoting political interests. As in Belize, participants chose to raise awareness and encourage behavior change through signs. They created ten environmental signs and installed them in different parts of the island: schools, recycling centers, health centers, playgrounds etc.

 We were able to use the same methodology in the two different countries to tackle a global problem. Each training was able to identify the common causes of plastic pollution and foster solutions that fit the specific socioeconomic, ecological, cultural and political contexts of the local areas they reside in. While the problem of plastic pollution hasn’t been solved, these leaders arrived at a better understanding of what stands in the way and have tools to engage their communities in further conversation to arrive at a community-driven solution.

 We are grateful to the creative leaders and partner organizations for their hard work and lively participation that helped us all to understand our own impact on the planet and on each other.