Panamá- over and out.
Based on the fact that our last blog post was over 10 days ago, one may assume that things with PLASTIC:Unwrapped have been rather mellow. However, the exact opposite is true. Amidst traveling across the country using local buses*, we managed to finish our collaboration with LocalinPTY, finish our second video in our feature series which you can check out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmnQj1wUwXg, and squeezed in a visit to our 2nd Panamanian initiative, the Plastic Bottle Village in Bocas del Toro.
Working with Victor and LocalinPTY was a great experience. It was inspiring seeing how much potential education has, in changing habits and attitudes. We were privileged to join a women’s group that was made up of women of all ages and the community elder from Chorillo. Addressing women is such an important target audience, as in Panama, they are still the ones who do most of the weekly shopping. That was part of the reason why Victor started this women’s group. He thought that if he can teach them about the plastic problem, they have the potential to approach their shopping with a more environmentally conscientious mindset, and that is one more household that is aware of the plastic problem.
One thing that caught our eye throughout our whole time in Panama was that yes, single-use plastic is still a huge problem, but so are all the polystyrene take-away containers and cups. Panama has a rich street food and drink culture- whether that may be selling coconut juice, shaved ice (this is where vendors have a large block of ice and a special grater on their trolley- they grate or shave the ice into cup and flavor it with different fruit syrups: raspberry, grape or passionfruit. This beverage is then topped off with a dribble of condensed milk), or ‘raspadura’ (unrefined whole cane sugar made into a refreshing drink which has a taste resembling tamarind). All of these drinks are served in a polystyrene cup, topped off with a plastic straw. Interestingly, Panama’s northern neighbor, Costa Rica recently announced the ban of single-use polystyrene. Way to go, CR! Hopefully Panama will follow shortly, as the abundance and the frequency of use of this material really caught our attention. If this ever does happen, it will be very interesting to see which alternatives the local vendors will seek and opt for.
From Panama City, we then made our way to Bocas del Toro. Our destination was Isla Colon. There we met up with Robert Bezeau, founder of the Plastic Bottle Village. We spent a morning chatting to him and looking around what he had established. The low season is well underway on Bocas, and so a lot of construction is happening in terms of refurbishment and extensions. Robert built several buildings using plastic bottles that he had collected and separated from the island’s litter. (Unlike the mainland, tap water is not drinkable and so the main source of drinking water is buying plastic bottles. They have an interesting refill scheme where you pay 25c for ½ gallon of UV filtered water. This is a lot cheaper and more environmentally friendly than buying a new bottle each time, however these refill stations are sparsely distributed across the town, and so it is often easier to pop into one of the many little corner shops and buy your bottled water there.
Back to Robert- Robert’s approach to the plastic problem is that he see’s everyone who uses plastic as criminals, who need to repent. This can be done in a ‘jail’. The jail provides hostel-like accommodation, with the addition that the entire building has been built using plastic bottles. By spending a night or two in the jail, Robert aims to raise awareness and provide education of just how profound the plastic problem is. We are currently in the process of making our video about the Plastic Bottle Village, so stay tuned!
Checking off that initiative also marks an end of our time in Panama. After a rocky ride trying to rearrange and restructure our itinerary, we are finally on our way to Ecuador and are more than excited to see what awaits us there.
* (M&SD’s top tip for overland bus travel in Panama: DRESS FOR BALTIC CONDITIONS. Your GPS co-ordinates may tell you that you’re at somewhere around 8.952°N, -79.56° E, but when you are in that bus, it’s like you’re in the Arctic!)