A new report by Plastic Free Cayman analyzes more than 6.5 tons of plastic trash the organization’s volunteers collected during 12 cleanup events over the past year.
It is probably no surprise that single-use drink bottles accounted for 90 percent of the 13,000 pounds of plastics collected. In one cleanup event, more than 10,000 plastic bottles were gathered in the space of two hours.
The most common piece of trash? Dasani water bottles, according to the report.
Claire Hughes, founder of Plastic Free Cayman, said one thing worries her more than the bottles her group recovers.
“We find a lot of plastic bottle lids,” said Ms. Hughes, a physical education teacher at Cayman Prep. “The bottles we find tend to have lids. What worries me is, where are the bottles without lids?”
Most, she suspects have filled with water and sunk into the ocean.
The analysis was not done on all the trash the group has recovered. About 800 pounds from one site was thoroughly separated and about one-third of another has been analyzed. The organization, Ms. Hughes said, does not have the resources to completely evaluate the trash from every cleanup. But she believes the report’s analysis is representative of what is found on the island as a whole.
One thing she would like to be able to determine in the future is how much of the plastic on the beaches is generated locally and how much is washed up from other places.
“We know a lot washes up from Haiti and Dominican Republic,” she said, noting that volunteers frequently recover containers that bear the markings of those countries.
The report also breaks down how many volunteers – 1,100 participated over the course of the year – in each cleanup and how much plastic was collected at each site. The number of people does not always line up with the amount of trash picked up.
Ms. Hughes said some areas are so dense with litter, that a small number of people can quickly make a big impact.
“SafeHaven was intense,” she said. “There was so much litter in such a small place.”
On the other hand, she said, a North Side beach the group cleaned was “a long stretch of beach and you have to walk to find the trash.”
Toiletry items make up a significant amount of the plastic recovered. One page of the report breaks down such items, including deodorant containers, toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes, the three of which make up 70 percent of this type of trash.
Ms. Hughes said she’s seen picking up something as small as a toothbrush motivate a change in a volunteer’s behavior.
“When people find a bunch of toothbrushes, you can see the penny drop,” she said, adding that they begin to think of alternatives, such a using a biodegradable bamboo toothbrush.
Such toothbrushes are now available on island, she said, part of what she sees as a change in thinking when it comes to plastics.
“It’s about spreading awareness,” she said. “A lot of businesses, they contact us or tag us that they’re now using paper straws, or they’re moving from polystyrene containers to the more eco-friendly ones.”
She believes Plastic Free Cayman has played a role in encouraging such changes.
A World Habitat Day message released Monday by the Ministry of Health, Environment, Culture and Housing, credited the organization with making a difference, calling its efforts “quite commendable.”
“The group has collected thousands of pounds of garbage since it began last year,” the message said. “We at the Ministry tip our hats to this group and wish them many successful future beach clean-ups.”
The next cleanup, in fact, takes place this weekend in Cayman Brac. Volunteers are encouraged to meet at 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at Eagle Ray House, just east of Bat Cave, to beautify the beach.
More information on the organization is available at the group’s Facebook page or by emailing [email protected]
Editor’s note: This story has been amended from the original to reflect the correct number of volunteers who took part in the cleanups.