Protector of Paradise
I was recently chosen as one of 7 finalists to be a Protector of Paradise, joining an Environmental Tourism Campaign focused on heightening awareness about coral reefs, eco systems, plastic pollution & global warming.
To me, being a protector of paradise holds great meaning. It means I must do as much as I can to help make our environment more sustainable. I must go beyond my local community and visit others to see how they are living, share stories and knowledge, and work together towards a common goal. Being named a Protector of Paradise has provided me such opportunity to travel to the Fiji Islands and make a direct impact.
When I think of the Fiji Islands, images of palm trees, kava ceremonies, big smiles, and crystal-clear blue water pop into my head. The immense beauty of the Fiji Islands and the kindness of its people is unmatched to anywhere else I have traveled. However, a simple glance at the coastline quickly reveals a less glamorous growing problem: plastic-ridden beaches.
Fiji is a developing nation and the environmental initiatives on the islands are a work in progress, making plastic pollution a major issue. Polynesians come from a “throw away” society. Back when food and products would come wrapped in banana, ti, or coconut leaves, these natural leaves could be thrown into the ocean without environmental implications. With a modern influx of plastic packaging to the island, people now throw harmful plastic waste into the ocean to discard it.
Unfortunately, plastic never goes away, only instead it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces in the ocean. Plastic that has broken down to smaller than 5mm in size is referred to as microplastic, which enters food chain, bioaccumulating into potentially harmful amounts.
Fijians have very limited choices when it comes to using plastic or a sustainable alternative, and most of the time there is no alternative. With no way to refuse plastic for locals, the only options are to try and reuse plastic items or to look towards recycling.
Realistically, a plastic water bottle may get refilled a few times, but most likely it will get tossed in the trash after only one use. While recycling programs do exist on the main Fiji islands, in the outer more remote islands, this is not the case. With no option to recycle, plastic often gets burned in a yard at the end of the day.
As a Protector of Paradise, exploring solutions and alternative ways of using and disposing plastic in the Fiji islands, I came across Precious Plastic.
Founded in 2013, Precious Plastic is a global community of hundreds of people working towards a solution to plastic pollution. Precious Plastic provides tools that make recycling plastic easier, sharing these tools, knowledge, and techniques online for free. They’ve created machines that enable anyone to recycle plastic from basic, affordable materials.
Using these machines, Fijians can collect plastic off of the beach and turn it into something usable, like a souvenir keychain which can be sold to tourists and island visitors. This method turns collecting plastic into something of value which can be sold and removed from the island. Tourists literally remove repurposed plastic from the island while taking home a memorable souvenir at the same time.
Throughout my remaining weeks as Protector of Paradise in Fiji I plan to continue to make connections with local communities and environmental organizations so that we can work together to come up with better solutions for recycling, reusing, and reducing single-use plastics.
Written by Magen Schifiliti ~ Conservation & Education Director at Trilogy