Roatan’s Beauty, Truth & Wisdom
Mahogany Bay employees pick up trash stuck in the mangroves at Brick Bay.

A Grass Roots Group Takes Up the Never Ending War on Trash

Understanding one’s environmental impact and acting accordingly is something learned over time through education and by following the example set by family, friends and teachers. On an island where the majority of its residents were born into families without such an education, learning how to keep the marine environment clean comes with time.

One organization is making a difference. BICCU [Bay Islands Coastal Clean Up] started at my desk at the Port of Roatan,” says Dawn Hyde, Customer Service manager at the Port of Roatan. It was 2012 and Hyde was wondering why no one was doing a similar effort to the Ocean Conservancy’s 30 year-old world wide effort of International Coastal Cleanup. Since there appeared to be no such local effort, Hyde decided to start one herself.

With seven friends, she started an island-wide clean up that takes place twice each year. BICCU empowers the island community to grow stronger by working on a common goal. It builds community cohesion and provides some relief from the trash problems that increasingly plague Roatan. The Bay Islands clean-up effort has inspired similar programs in Tela, Omoa, and La Ceiba.

A BICCU volunteer gathers garbage in Brick Bay.

Every day rain and sea currents wash hundreds of tons of trash, especially plastics, onto the shores and reefs of the island. To counter that, BICCU organizes two clean-ups a year: there is one clean up before the rainy season and the other before the Holy Week tourist rush.

In 2018 things really ramped up when an international corporation became interested in Roatan’s garbage conundrum. Daniel Birnbaum, CEO of Soda Stream saw images of Roatan’s waters being filled with floating plastic and decided to help. “Everything happened in less than three hours,” remembers Michelle Mejilla, a Honduran who moved to Israel 18 years ago and graduated from Tegucigalpa’s Catholic University Environmental Department. SodaStream, an Israel based multinational, decided to locate their annual 2018 worldwide meeting on Roatan with part of their stay dedicated to picking up trash on the island. SodaStream is about to close a deal where it would be purchased for $3.2 billion by PepsiCo and its CEO, Ramon Laguarta, showed up on Roatan.”We can’t clean up all the plastic waste on the planet, but we each need to do whatever we can,” said Birnbaum, whose company makes sparkling water from ordinary tap water. As a result, Roatan got some international media exposure and 151 rooms at Fantasy Islands were filled in the low season.

Bay Islands clean-up effort has inspired similar programs in Tela, Omoa,
and La Ceiba.

In May, Mejilla spent four days scouting the most littered places of Roatan and decided to focus SodaStream’s main trash collection efforts at Jonesville’s Mangrove Point and Celebration Cay just south of Los Fuertes. 150 SodaStream employees and 150 Roatan schoolchildren picked up around 2,000 bags of debris. “We put aluminum and glass in green bags, transparent bags are for plastic,” said Hyde.

Dozens of groups of totaling almost 3,000 people took on the task of picking up garbage not only across Roatan but in Utila and Guanaja as well. “SodaStream added the fizz we needed to get the clean up moving this year,” said Hyde.

On the fifth day of the cleanup, the Mahogany Bay employees took their turn in picking up plastics and trash in the middle of the island. They were assigned one of the more polluted areas on Roatan: the Brick Bay mangrove next to the Brick Bay village. The currents and wind push the debris and garbage from open sea into the cove from the east almost directly into Brick Bay trapping tons of garbage.

A garbage collection point near Fantasy Island Resort.

There was driftwood, plastic bottles, metal cans and the volunteers even manage to pull out a boiler. The ladies gathered the garbage into bags and men pulled the bags in knee high water to the collection point. By the end of the morning a two meter high pile of bags was awaiting a garbage truck. “When we have the clean-up the Municipal trucks can’t handle the loads,” says Hyde who negotiates with local transport companies and taxis that do business at the Port of Roatan dock. The bags ended up at the Roatan Municipal trash dump where eight families live from recycling. “These ‘pepenadores’ separate the trash and sell it to recycling collectors,” says Zulema Santos, of the BICCU organizers. “There are so few people that value their work.” Mayor Julio Galindo has worked out an agreement with PepsiCo and the Cerveceria to establish an NGO – Island Green that provided a buy-back of recyclables on the island and facilitates free transport to recycling centers on the mainland but this subsidized NGO arrangement only lasts five years.

Inadvertently BICCU has become the islands emergency force. When a major weather emergency takes place on the island it is unlikely the central government would be able to provide fast and large enough support to the islands. It could be BICCU volunteers that will be going to affected areas and providing quick response aid.

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