The island of Principé, nestled off the coast of Western Africa, contains one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. The little island is blanketed in the Atlantic Rainforest and is home to 900 species of plants, 60 species of birds (25 of them endemic), and 105 different types of fish – and that’s only what scientists have found so far. They estimate that most of the island’s marine life has yet to be discovered and documented. The entire island was declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2012.
Unfortunately, this little island had a big problem – plastic waste. The island is also home to 8,000 people and because the population is not self-sustaining, the people need to import most basic necessities. This has resulted in a huge amount of plastic waste that has slowly accumulated on the island.
Many conservationists were worried that the plastic would begin to infiltrate the island’s unique ecosystem and make its way into the ocean which is why in 2014, with international support, a plastic exchange program was started on the island. On collection day, locals bring all of their plastic bottles down the docks where they are given to a logistics team and then transported to Portugal to be recycled properly. The island is hoping to be largely plastic free by 2020.
The program has been an incredible success. There have been 17 plastic exchanges since the program’s inception and the recycling team has collected 456,000 plastic bottles in that time. For every 50 plastic bottles in individual turns in, they get a spiffy metal bottle in exchange. Fernadez, an employee of the biosphere who helps the collection and disposal of the plastic bottles, says “It really motivates the kids more than anyone else. They collect as many [bottles] as they can so you hardly see any laying in the streets now.” But the recycling program’s benefits are more aesthetic. Ascencio, a Spanish scientist monitoring the beaches for micro-plastics states “there’s a visible difference” on the beaches of Principé.
This innovative approach to plastic disposal should be applauded and replicated because while the island of Principé may have solved its plastic problem, the global community is still struggling. Every year 40 billion plastic bottles end up in landfills. Eventually, these bottles join the 8.8 billion tons of plastic waste that enter the oceans every year. Plastic pollution currently threatens over 800 different marine species and yet, we continue to produce more and more of it. Production of disposable plastics increased by 620 percent in the last 30 years alone. To learn more about how you can reduce your plastic waste, join One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic movement and start saving our planet’s oceans today.
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Image source: Francesco Scatena/ShutterStock