Now What? A Post-Pledge Plastic-Free Commitment

Note: This post is Part 2 of a report by Bodhi Surf School about how the small business is going plastic-free. Read Part 1, A Surf School Aims to Be Plastic Free.

By Samantha Rose

A couple of months ago, we began a plastic audit here at Bodhi Surf School. So far, we have focused on the plastic products that are used every day—Tupperware, cups, spatulas, water pitchers, trash cans, and toilet seats. As the audit neared completion, we found ourselves with a big pile of plastics and a bigger pile of questions: What now? Which items are most critical to replace? What will be done with the plastic items that we already have? How do we make plastic-alternative products available to other local businesses in Costa Rica? How do we afford to do this?

Being critical

After some time and creative thinking, the Bodhi Surf team decided that the immediate plan of action will be to:

1. Expand our plastic audit to examine single-use plastics.

2. Select replacement products—preferably from local businesses in Costa Rica— we are going to purchase, and categorize them as short (1 – 3 month), mid (4 – 6 month), or long-term (7 – 12 month) purchases.

3. Present our findings to 10local businesses in the Bahia Ballena-Uvita area to get them on board, encouraging them to reduce their plastic footprint.

4. Develop a “how to do a plastic audit” process/demonstration, then capture the most efficient practices and consolidate them into a manual for going “plastic-free.”.

5. When we have a few local businesses working on their audits, we will scale the audit to fit other programs such as Caminos de Osa (an ecotourism project that Bodhi is in close collaboration with) and provide support to these businesses in going “plastic-free.”.

Expanding the audit and shrinking our plastic use

Bodhi needs to take stock of everything plastic in order to see our entire impact clearly. According to co-owner, Travis James Bays, next on the agenda is conducting a proper inventory of all single-use plastics. There are certainly hurdles to be anticipated as Bodhi delves deeper into the reality of their plastic consumption. For example, in Uvita, Costa Rica, rice is sold in plastic bags. There is no option of going to Whole Foods to buy items in bulk. Spice containers and trash bags, too, are extremely convenient when running a business, but they are utilized only briefly before they are tossed toward a landfill.

So, although we do not expect to eliminate all single-use plastics (at least not right away), there are foreseeable ways to cut back. For example, we are considering cleaning out and reusing old fertilizer bags in our small trash cans. That way, we can empty all trash from those bags into one large, plastic bag. We would then wash out and reuse the fertilizer bags, cutting down on several plastic bags per week.

Recently, Bodhi co-owner and resident yoga teacher, Pilar Salazar, said, “The best we can do as human beings is to refuse plastic and buy local. I make sure there is no plastic in the transaction [with the organic vegetable farmer] each week. My daughter loves yogurt, so I recently decided to only buy it from one man in San José who refills a glass jar with yogurt made from his cow’s milk.” Consistent with this statement, Bodhi is looking to source as many plastic replacement goods as possible from businesses within Costa Rica—a mission that looks like it will be largely possible to carry out. Indeed, our move toward less plastic will be gradual.

What will be replaced first?

There is one primary question to be asked when considering which plastic goods get the boot first: Does the use of this product affect our health? Along with environmental impact reduction, the primary goal of reducing plastic is the health of Bodhi employees and guests. Therefore, the Bodhi team will start by replacing any product that involves plastic coming into contact with either food or drinking water. This includes cups, spatulas, cutting boards, electric kettles, butter dishes, etc. By replacing items that are used for food preparation first, they will be less likely to replace things just for the sake of it.

In this thoughtful blog, Beth Terry, author of My Plastic Free Life, divulges that when she truly went “plastic-free,” she began to indiscriminately replace all of the plastic in her home (even her knitting needles), admitting, “I feel like maybe I lost sight of the reason for reducing my plastic consumption — reducing my ecological footprint and protecting my health — and started using plastic reduction as an excuse to satisfy a craving for new things…” This is what we want to avoid—buying new things and forgetting why we are doing it! After all, the old plastic stuff has to go somewhere too.

Where is all this headed?

In the first blog that discussed the plastic audit, I mentioned that Bodhi Surf School’s ripples would notbe “made of plastic.” What, exactly, did that mean? What will they be made of?

Going “plastic free” for the folks at Bodhi means reducing plastic usage as much as possible. This means working toward reachable goals to reduce single-use plastics and replace reusable products both in the short term and over time. As this mission is carried out, we plan to develop a manual of “how to do a plastic audit” for other individuals and businesses. Bodhi wants to mentor several small businesses in the Bahia Ballena community, guiding them to conduct their own plastic audits and ask themselves, “Why are we offering these plastics in the first place?” One way to convince others to “make the change” is to outline the potential economic benefits of reducing plastic use. 

Restaurants can immediately lower expenses by:

  • not providing straws. They can give them to clients that ask from them, but not provide them automatically. 
  • not providing plastic bags around silverware
  • providing guests with an incentive to bring their own to-go containers or to return their plastic take-out containers.

Supermarkets can:

  • offer cardboard boxes for large purchases
  • offer cloth bags or an incentive to bring cloth bags
  • refuse to provide plastic bags

Tour Operators can:

  • not offer bottled water
  • use plates and silverware when providing meals and snacks
  • provide fruits instead of products covered in plastic

Making these immediate changes would hopefully translate to long-term changes, by revealing financial incentives to reduce plastics and philanthropic reasons to help the environment. These changes would be revealed to consumers, who could in turn learn to reduce their plastic use…the ripple effects of these actions could spread all over the world. 

Another tool for change that is in the works is the creation of a traveling plastic workshop— a moving model that showcases Bodhi’s gradual shift to plastic free. This educational, storytelling device will display the plastic products that Bodhi had, and the ways in which they moved away from them. We hope this model will serve as a template for individuals or small businesses that wish to go plastic-free, but aren’t sure where to begin. In addition to educating about the harms of plastic and informing people on how to budget for replacements, Bodhi hopes to show examples of “before” and “after” the plastic audit process. 

Co-owners of Bodhi Surf School, Travis James Bays and Adrianne Chandra-Huff, have agreed that the more replacement products they can source locally, the better. This would not only have a positive impact on the local economy, but would ensure that other local, small businesses could access non-plastic goods as well. Once there is a cooperative of small businesses that are transitioning to the plastic-free model, the Bodhi team plans to grow the model outward into other projects such as “Caminos de Osa”, an ecotourism program with which they are in collaboration .

The point of this project is increased health and the privilege of possibly motivating others to join, saving money and helping to save the environment from the detrimental impact of plastics. Guided by hope for the plastic-free future of our community, the ripples extending from Bodhi Surf School will be of education, hard work, and the willingness to learn from others along the way.

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To Stop Plastic Pollution