Beach Plastic Tales

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Centro de visitantes Sian ka’an

…..There was recently someone posting in a Tulum expats group about the trash in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This is a subject for which I am very passionate, thought I would share these things.

I lived in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve in Quintana Too, Mexico; on the beach from 2006 to 2009. I can tell you this trash comes from all over the world.

My friend Niki Allen in Punta Allen did a test one time where she checked the trash each day for I think a week, and found it came from over 50 countries.

From my experience, I can tell you, much of it comes from cruise ships. The fine for getting caught is less than what it would cost them to dispose of it properly. This is common knowledge. This is where much of the medical waste that is found comes from. Needles, medicine bottles etc. I could tell when a cruise ship had dumped near by as there would be perfectly salted apples and oranges that would float up!

One day, a whole piggy bank boat must have sunk and just out of the blue in one day I found about 10 plastic piggy banks of different colors, sizes and shapes, but obviously from the same manufacturer. (earlier that same day, I saw a clown in a car going by on the road, but that is a different story).  Over the next year I probably found a 100 of them.  But they broke down into tiny little bits pretty quickly. That was when I got it how much of it is going into the sand and water. Even the ones I saved broke down in my house and had to be thrown away.

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piggy going to pieces

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I had quite a toy collection of doll parts and other things awesome things. Some people thought it was creepy, but it was fun to find all that stuff. I had a big area under a palm tree where I displayed my art.

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Another time a guest told me that they found a head on the beach, well, that will stop you in your tracks….I went and found a life sized maniquin head that was all pained up beautifuly in a very modern Asian style. Like a dope I added it to my toy collection and somone stole it.

I had to pack up m toy collection before Hurricane Dean 10 years ago, and it was never really the same after that, it all eventually got put in the garbage! actually, I still have a few things from there……even in my play box that I have for the kids that visit my house.

I would also often find usable stuff like bowls and tubs and things. I used to call going for walks going “shopping” and I had to actually break the habit and force myself to relax and enjoy the nature instead of looking for treasure! I could spot something Margo Blue from a long ways away!

I still have a lot of things sorted into the bowls and such I found. Like my bead collection and also many of my junk drawers and such are organized into stuff that I still use that I found 10 years ago on the beach! I have bread trays I use for tables.

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The basket on my bike is a square milk crate that says Dean Foods and I swear to goodness it washed up right after Hurricane Dean just over 1o years ago. I had the dangdest time getting a shop to put it on for me, they all wanted to sell me something plastic or wire instead. I put it on myself with zip ties….I’m not perfect.

Once I even found a matching set of flip flops, but someone claimed those……

The top 10 things that wash up are disposable razors, tooth brushes, shoes, plastic drink bottles and tops, personal care and cleaning product bottles (shampoo, dish soap etc) plastic bags, automotive additives such as oil, kids toys, plastic cutlery, ropes and fishing nets.

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Because of my experience living on that amazing beach, I have changed many of my buying habits: I make all my own toothpasteuse bamboo tooth brushes. I make my hair gel. I use a concentrated shampoo that lasts me over a year.
I have a fork and knife in my purse along with several plastic bags that I saved up from something, I use all hand made cleaning products that come in bulk and I fill my own containers, I buy my laundry soap by the 20 liter tubs and then return them when I am done for a refill.
When grocery shopping, I totally think of the packaging. I try to buy things always in glass jars, and I will NEVER throw a way a glass jar! I have two tubs under my counter, one with reusable plastic, and one with reusable glass. And my plastic bags that I save are well organized too, and NONE of them were bought. (Zip locks and garbage bags are something I cherish, but try not to buy) I even save and use the plastic bag that my toilet paper comes in!
You will almost NEVER see me without water or other beverage that I brought from home, and I almost never buy potato chips or anything like that, not because I don’t want to eat them, I just refuse to participate in that type of packaging. I have heard they don’t go away for 300 years!. (Diapers 550 years). When I see the inside of someplace like OXXO, it breaks my heart to think we are so thoughtless of the earth as to support such a thing. I will eat them if someone else buys them however. 😊

When I got my dog Lilli, I thought, I am not going to Chedroui and buy a bunch of plastic crap from China! Her collar was made by cute Mayan ladies and I make all her leashes, and she gets compliments on these things all the time.

Another thing to consider is that the current is a big factor. The current is different in Tulum Beaches than it is in Sian Ka’an so it doesn’t get as much trash or sargaso. But it does come up, just usually gets cleaned up as there are so many hotels that have hired people to do this. There are times when both are worse and better, due to the currents and the weather. Hurricanes in other places trash our beaches, hurricanes here, cover them in clean sand and they look AMAZING!

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Xamach Dos


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After Hurricane Dean behind an abandoned building.

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To me these things are as natural as breathing. Not an effort at all, I guess my mom raised me right. I’m not perfect, my life would not stand the white glove test, but I wish it did.

There is hope. There is new science and new ways to make the things we have used for plastic that are much easier on our planet and make more sense economically as well. New ways to recycle what we already have. So I think it is going to happen very soon, that we at least won’t be adding to the problem anymore. Part of it we have to believe that it is possible, and to wake up enough to make sure it is done. We have all the resources and knowledge necessary to fix this. So, let’s do it!

Did you know right here in Tulum we have a swim suit designer that uses fabric that is 100% ocean recycled plastic? Amara Swimwear

Heather Froeming and her passion with No Mas Plastico gets a standing ovation for education to the people who need it , providing alternatives in products and helping us understand the problem. She has more than a decade working with and without assistance of the powers that be trying to make change. Give this lady a hand with donations, finding out what she needs volunteers to do and help her expand the good work.

My hat is off to Leslie Lynch as well, she hasn’t been here very long, but she has done something that many have talked about, rapidisimo! She organized picking up and dealing with recycling! Check with her to see how to help with this as well.

I’m know there are other good news stories in Tulum. If not, let’s make some!

Hope this gives people a bit of perspective….and the will to make this a better planet. Let’s rock this!

Hope you enjoy the photos!

Blessings to us all!


The original FEEL GOOD photo by Niki Allen


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