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It’s the end of ‘Plastic Free July’ but that doesn’t mean that the efforts people have put in this month has to end. Our Director, Rory, has been in Borneo for a few weeks and as a way of ending his ‘Plastic Free July’ efforts, he has highlighted exactly why we should be avoiding single-use plastic. Have a read below at how Camps International are trying to combat this waste.

As the Australia and Asia Director I get to visit all our camps and projects in Asia and am currently in Borneo overseeing our busy UK team season.  I visited our camp on the beautiful Mantanani Island where we host teams and are launching our curriculum-based expeditions in the future.  One of the key elements here is getting students to understand the fragility of the eco-system on the island and the massive environmental pressures as it becomes a popular tourist destination.

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One of our sessions on the island has been a beach clean-up where, usually, students collect several large bags of rubbish (mainly plastic) in a short period of time. With more tour companies operating on the island and an influx of day trippers, the volume of plastic, and specifically water bottles has grown significantly.

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I was aware of this increase, but it wasn’t until my visit late last week that the sheer scale of it hit me square between the eyes. We are working closely with ‘Reef Check Malaysia’ and the community to educate and introduce basic recycling and sorting of waste. We have been doing this as a camp since we arrived here 10 years ago, but traditionally the local community has simply burnt or dumped their waste in the undergrowth or in the sea itself.  Reef Check now have several machines to try to help reduce the tide of plastic – one is a baler which bales bottles for removal back to the mainland and the second is a shredder.  The baler squeezes bottles and binds them. Unfortunately, these bales are bulky and the realities of the logistics of removing them is difficult.

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It costs approx. $300 for a boat to take 40 bales off the island, and a further $100 for a truck to pick them up from the jetty. When taken to a recycling centre these bales recoup only about $50 – hence this is an unsustainable process. The shredder is a lot more positive. It shreds clean bottles of mixed grade plastic into small pieces. These pieces can be packed into sacks and removed to the mainland – since these are more compact the cost vs return is a bit better, but it is still a challenge. The volume of sacks needed is high and the machine is slow so it will take time to get this process on top of the backlog of bottles.

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We have started to use these shreds of plastic in what we call eco-bricks where we use the shreds of plastic instead of gravel/stones/bathe mix when making bricks. We then use these bricks for building work on our projects on the island such as additional classrooms at the school.  Whilst this is not disposing of the plastic, it is making use of it.  We also use plastic bags which can’t be shredded and ram these into large 1 litre bottles to make them hard and suitable as bricks. The shredding machine also has an “extruder” which means the shreds are heated and can be forced into a mould. We are currently experimenting with finding good moulds and making objects the visiting tourist can buy such as turtle shaped fridge magnet. Hopefully this will re-coup some funds to get the project moving forward sustainably.

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It’s a real challenge and can be very upsetting to see so much waste. Teams often leave Mantanani very motivated to do something about it and shocked that such a beautiful place is turning into a plastic waste ground. I hope we can continue to support these initiatives, educate the local community, visiting tourists, tour operators and bring to life the issues around plastic to all visiting young people.

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Now onto myself and my family, as we took part in ‘Plastic Free July’. I have always been very waste conscious (or so I like to think) and am pretty tough on my family to recycle and reduce our waste. I used Plastic Free July as an opportunity to highlight plastics again to my family and get my kids involved more. I had them do some research (they are 12 and 8) and for them to give me 5 ways they were going to reduce their plastic use this month. We have had some challenges like everyone – we are literally surrounded by plastic in everything we do. Here’s some challenges and changes we made:

  • Whilst making sandwiches for lunches I suddenly realised we were using individually wrapped single cheese slices. Not only is unwrapping these skinny and nutrionally worthless slices a nuisance, the plastic used is unnecessary. We have now switched to brands that provide slices but in a big pack and not individually wrapped – they are however still in an outer plastic wrapper….argghhh!
  • At the ice cream shop the other day, for a treat for the kids, we got them both an ice cream. We discussed the option of using a cup and the small plastic spoon but opted on getting a cone instead
  • We found ourselves in a fast food outlet the other day (again as a treat for the kids – please don’t think my kids eat rubbish all the time!!) We ordered the usual burger and fries and drink, and half way through the meal we realised we were sat there with plastic straws and tops for the drinks. It was just too easy to do it – its ingrained into us and there is no alternative at the counter – this was an eye opener
  • We always use any old plastic shopping bags as rubbish bags in the kitchen and have been doing for years. I have made it my mission to reduce that enormous pile of bags under the sink. Now that we religiously use our own bags at the supermarket, our collection of bags has all but gone. So, we discussed what to use as kitchen bin bags instead and we will now buy the compostable bags as an alternative. We already recycle everything we can and put all vegetable waste into our worm farm, so our general waste for landfill each week is quite small for a family of 4

 

I think the key lessons we have learnt this month, is it’s just too easy to use plastic without realising. You really have to be conscious of every choice you make, and I hope this month helps us to keep it at the front of our minds in our everyday lives.