Reducing plastic at coastal community schools, Guatemala

Semillas del Océano (Seeds of the Ocean) has as its mission to design and implement innovative conservation programmes that educate local leaders to promote sustainable development in their communities.   The aim is to use Guatemala’s marine and coastal resources sustainably through the contribution of community members as stewards of the oceans and the country’s natural resources.

Plastic is one of the main issues that threatens coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs which are a great source of biodiversity including several migratory and endemic species.  The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta de Manabique is protected due to its great biodiversity of species and habitats but it is being increasingly threatened by plastic pollution. This threatens the species but also the potential for ecotourism in the area, which could be used as a solid argument to prevent extractive activities in the region. Semillas del Océano aims to reduce by at least 30% the consumption and emission of single use plastic at schools of the coastal communities of the Guatemalan Caribbean. Six schools that are located in communities settled in the protected area will each take 10 workshops about marine debris and solid waste.  These workshops will include theory as well as practice through activities such as beach clean-ups, classification of litter, creation of school gardens with recycled plastic and experiments about its characteristics and rate of degradation.    The ultimate aim is for each school to become 100% plastic free.

The Update

This project is now complete and has made some big steps into plastic reduction in areas where waste management is a considerable challenge: the rural coastal school communities participating in the project do not have any waste collection system. Consequently, waste is burnt, buried or simply thrown away into the natural environment.

The project carried out a series of workshops with six schools, involving on average 135 students and 8 teachers. Workshops included: sources of waste; perception and knowledge of waste; types of waste (in this area the most common were plastic bottles, bags, snack wraps and paper); degradation of waste; classification of waste; problems caused by waste; solutions to waste issues including reduce, reuse and recycle.

Students were issued with reusable bags and an eco-kit with reusable plates, cup, cutlery and water bottle. Ecobricks were also produced with each bottle containing around 140-180 plastic wraps, resulting in a significant reduction in the number of plastic objects ending up in the natural environment.

As a result of the education provided by this project, and with the use of the eco-kits, teachers estimate between 30-70% reduction in waste production. Schools continue to classify their trash and some are selling their tin and plastic waste to generate a small amount of extra income to use at school.

Beach clean up events were also carried out involving 733 people, including students, teachers and communities resulting in the collection of over 8.4 tonnes of waste and delivering important conservation messages to all involved.

Update: On the 20th September, the Guatemalan government approved a new legislation to ban all single-use plastic products in the country. This in part is thanks to the awareness work that local and national organisations like Semillas del Océano have been doing, plus international awareness campaigns. They have two years from now to become single use plastic free!

“For us, it was a privilege that you chose us as a project that EOCA wanted to support. Thanks to you, a small organisation like ours, has become an organisation young volunteers and teachers want to work with here in Guatemala. We have no words to thank you, EOCA and your kind sponsors.”  Alerick Pacay, Director, Semillas del Océano