Guest post by Jazeen Hollings, Director of
As I chatted with Travis Bays, Bodhi Surf + Yoga’s busy co-owner, I pictured him hunched over his wooden kitchen table in Bahia, Costa Rica, trusty stainless steel water bottle in hand. Through the telephone I could hear the excited laughs of his two-year old daughter Clea and his bustling wife and fellow co-owner, Pilar.
At one point during the interview he even shouted, “Whoa! A bird just flew into my house! It almost hit me!” Even amidst the bird attacks, Travis was able to talk about the soft-launch of the Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative. You can read more about the beginnings of the initiative here, as it has been forming since November 2015 after an inspiring visit from Jay and Chantal of Life Without Plastic.
The Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative will bring local non-profits and private tourism companies together with the goal of minimizing the use of plastics in the area. The primary focus is on straws, plastic bags and water bottles. These items usually end up in the ocean.
The initiative aims to convince local hotels and restaurants to forgo the plastic straw, to urge the local municipality to condemn plastic bags (something other countries like France have already done) and to show that boat tour operators can offer potable drinking water instead of bottled. The initiative will also educate local businesses on the money they will save by going plastic free, something that is very key in persuading small business owners.
With gusto Travis states, “We’re dreaming big but we’re taking small steps.”
Now, these might not seem like big changes. Here is the shocking reality from the US National Park Service:
“Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day. To understand just how many straws 500 million really is, this would fill over 125 school buses with straws every day. That’s 46,400 school buses every year!”
That’s a lot of plastic. Just from the United States alone.
Other than working with local businesses, a big part of the Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative is in educating the youth of both the local private and public schools.
The three organizations involved in the campaign are Asana, Geoporter Costa Rica, and Bodhi Surf + Yoga.
There is one local hotel, Bahia Azul that has really taken to becoming plastic-free. So much so that they have replaced plastic straws with stainless steel, plastic bottles with glass, and obtained biodegradable take-away containers.
So, finding the interest is easy. But like any cause for change, finding funding is difficult.
Travis has reached out to the local Chamber of Tourism, which helps by spreading the word through social media and internally soliciting for resources. The majority of the funding comes from Bodhi Surf & Yoga’s Travellers Philanthropy Program, which enables the two non-profits to organize and work on the initiative.
They have $2,000, which was used to hire a local artist to design the campaign’s logo, run a social media campaign and run local youth workshops. The goal is to bring the community together in order to make National Whale Day (September) as plastic free as it can be.
Still in its infancy, the Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative is trying to find solid ground and Travis is on the lookout for funding in hopes to one day spread research and workshops about the successes, failures and challenges of being a plastic free.
Despite resources being tight, Travis is optimistic. Right now there is a focus in Bahia and Uvita, both in the Bahia Ballena District, with the desire to organically expand to the neighbouring towns of Dominical and Ojochal. Always thinking ahead, Travis would like to take the initiative, in the form of a “Best Practices Guide,” to Caminos De Osa, a community-based tourism destination in the Osa Peninsula that he often works with. There, other communities can start taking their own steps forward, spreading the Bahia Ballena Plastic Free Initiative and developing it for their own needs.
Undergoing the responsibility of starting this initiative has really pushed Travis to think introspectively about his own plastics consumption. Frustration grows as Travis sees plastics in his home and business, while at the same time urging others to limit their own. As a co-owner of Bodhi Surf + Yoga, Travis realizes the irony of his learner surfboards, a product that is not plastic free.
“I feel like a hypocrite sometimes,” Travis sighs.
One of the biggest challenges he faces is his lack of plastic-free alternatives in his tiny town of Bahia. For example, he struggles with choosing to purchase honey that comes in a plastic bottle, with no glass option available. On a bigger scale, the eco-surfboards Travis has been investigating are very expensive, could deteriorate quickly in the tropical weather of Costa Rica, and could be less stable than his current learner boards. So it’s a gamble for his business. The lack of affordable, quality, plastic-free options is a hurdle that all businesses with good intentions are trying to overcome.
The Bahia Ballena Free of Plastics Initiative is working, but there is still work to be done! This is why little grassroots initiatives, like this one, are greatly needed and should be given the resources from the public and private sectors to solidify and flourish.”