It’s the morning after Balearics Day and I’m meeting Alice in Sa Feixina Park. A team are here dismantling and restoring the park back to it’s original state. It must have been a big day. Plastic cups, straws and polystyrene containers lay empty on the ground; used, disregarded and abandoned by their consumer. It’s ironic because Alice is from Asociación Ondine, the local marine conservation group that work tirelessly to reduce plastic pollution and protect the Balearic marine ecosystems that are damaged by plastic. Though there has been a sigh of relief that single use plastic is banned here by 2021, the change to alternatives that are “easily recyclable” or biodegradable is still not happening fast enough, nor is it a real solution to the issues we’re facing.
When I meet Alice, she too is taking in the surroundings – no doubt pondering how Ondine might help to improve on plastic reduction during Balearics Day next year. She is young, well-travelled and enthusiastic about her role at Asociación Ondine. Having sailed to some of the most remote places in the world and witnessed the detrimental effects of plastic in the ocean wherever she went, she couldn’t come back home to Mallorca and turn a blind eye to all that she experienced. Instead she joined the inspiring Ondine team and is passionate that together we can make a difference: “Revolutions start with the people. We can demand change. On the positive end of things, everyone is talking about plastic pollution nowadays and many people are trying to reduce their plastic footprint, but on the other hand, I think there is still a lot of misunderstandings going on which prevent real solutions. Ondine are trying to facilitate this by bringing solutions closer to people and by providing science based facts and honest alternatives to single use plastics.”
The Dos Manos Schools Programme
Ondine’s “Dos Manos” project is set to challenge beliefs and to make change. It comprises of three different initiatives to spread the word about what’s going on environmentally in the Balearics and how we can take positive steps to reduce our plastic waste. Where better to start than in schools, with the generation who sadly will be tackling todays problems left by those before them. This is one of their initiatives I wanted to know about more: The Dos Manos Schools Programme.
Ondine’s intent is to visit all children of school age here on island and not just teach them about the issues of plastic pollution, but also let them become part of the solution by generating new ideas to reduce plastic waste generation. Last year they reached 34 schools – that’s 2088 students and a whole lot of ideas. There are three parts to the programme which can be done for the younger years in one three hour session on the beach, or for the senior years, in three separate three hour sessions.
This initial session is to find out what students already know about plastic pollution and then provide them with facts. It’s vital in this introduction that they are to realise their connection to the problem as Alice explains:
“If we create the problem and we can see we are connected to the problem, then it’s highly probable we will create the solution as well. Facts we tell them such as, ‘one in every five breaths we breathe is from the ocean’ (marine plants or just the ocean), gives the children a definite connection – we can’t survive without the ocean. In discussions, we firstly take a broad view of plastic pollution and identify what’s happening all over the world. Showing a trailer of marine animals hurt by plastic triggers uncomfortable emotions such as sadness or anger and it’s this negative response we have to recognise and direct into a positive action. We can bring about change by talking about it all and making changes in our everyday lives, rather than distracting ourselves and ignoring the problem altogether. Quite often teenagers can feel quite powerless and insignificant. They are aware that the problem will be theirs to try solving, yet often they feel unable to do anything about it, as they see that the adults of today seem unable or unwilling to fix it. This pressure is put on them as ‘the future generation’ while in fact adults need to be setting the example by showing them that change is a possibility.”
Another problem Alice opened my eyes to and one that she talks about with the students is how the entire drainage system here in Palma cannot cope in heavy rain. Rather than allow an overflow of sanitary waste into the city, the filters are opened and it is spilled out into the ocean. This explains the wet wipes you may have seen on the rocks along the city beaches. Yuck! Certainly those that know this will think twice before flushing anything other than toilet paper down the loo – even wet wipes with the flushable logo are unsuitable. It makes me wonder though…if the ocean wasn’t there as a sewer and if people had to live amongst their sanitary waste after heavy rain, whether a better solution would have been found more quickly which doesn’t cause environmental damage?
The second part of the programme is on the beach, where plastic pollution is evident and clearly shows students how it is affecting their local environment. For most, at first glance, the beaches look clean. However, when really taking notice with tasks such as collecting and categorising the plastics, their eyes are opened as to how dirty the beaches really are. Last year, the students of the school programmes alone collected over 800kg of litter. That’s 101.815 objects categorised and counted. 36.219 were micro plastics; by teaching students that plastic is not biodegradable, that the process of photo degradation merely breaks it down into tiny fragments (micro plastics) which they then find on the beach, clearly shows them the magnitude of the problem – some plastic might last forever.
One of Ondine’s other initiatives worthy of mention here is their beach clean up events that take place regularly all around the island. Last year volunteers collected over 940kg of rubbish. These clean up events also help Ondine to conduct scientific surveys.
The third and final part of the programme is for the students to work in small groups and come up with solutions to the plastic pollution problem. One idea generated in a school and already put into action is the clean wave initiative – the large water bottles at events that refill water bottles and save thousands of unnecessary plastic items. Others have realised part of the solution is to raise awareness and have used their expert knowledge of social media and the internet to devise campaigns on Facebook and to create websites. Also there are groups that have created rap music to spread the message and reach audiences that may otherwise remain oblivious to environmental issues. It’s a fantastic demonstration that the younger generation do have the answers if given the chance to think and discuss the problems that will ultimately affect them. For Alice though the challenge is still there:
“The younger you start talking to children the better. They are much more interested and they see it clearly – ‘plastic is a problem so let’s stop using it’. As they get older, they are told it’s impossible to stop using plastic and so the habits of generations before them continue and it is more difficult to change ingrained ideas. By getting the younger generation to understand that they are the next consumer and they wield a lot of power, can feel empowering for them and they are likely to be open to change. At the beginning they don’t feel like they can do anything, but take them out of the rigid education box and let them start thinking and questioning and they realise they actually can.”
Competition For Seniors
For the senior students (15+), Associatión Ondine and another marine research and education project group, Alnitak, have joined forces and are offering students the chance to submit their plastic pollution reduction project, to win a week onboard a scientific boat with Alnitak’s research crew. They have the fantastic opportunity to experience the life of a marine biologist and study the marine life here in the Balearics, including whales and turtles.
A Collective Responsibility
The call on us to be socially responsible individuals with the environment at the forefront of our minds has never been more vital. Ensuring our children share this value is also imperative. It’s timely that Greta Thunberg is making waves with her strikes for climate. She demonstrates that children can take action and be heard. And when she speaks it is with a foreboding wisdom of what might happen if the world fails to act now. Asociación Ondine is giving children the opportunity to think and act consciously when it comes to their local environment. They are given a platform to discuss, debate and actually take action. It is commendable and I only hope they succeed in reaching out to all schools here in Mallorca as they’ve set out to do.
At home, I’ve been changing things up too. When I moved here, I made it a personal target to reduce my impact and that of my family on the environment. The changes are small but not inconsequential if we’re all making an effort: I try to buy my fruit and vegetables from the local village market and from shops that don’t wrap in plastic. I carry with me a reusable bag to avoid the use of a plastic one still given out in shops. If I have to have another bag, I pay extra for the brown paper one. Wherever I go, I take water from home in reusable water bottles (I like the metal ones as they keep the water cool.) I don’t give in to my daughter when she sees the Disney character water bottles and wants one. I definitely say no to straws…and I don’t use cling film anymore. I’m looking at the products I buy and opting for a plastic free alternative. My latest plastic reduction idea was trading in shower gels and hand-wash gels, which come in those plastic throw away bottles, for bars of soap which, if wrapped, come in recyclable cardboard or paper wrapping. I opt for food products in recyclable glass over plastic. Rather than using plastic bags in the small waste bins around the house, I use the compostable ones.
Tell me about what you’re doing to reduce plastic in the comments below and we can trade ideas!
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Or for specific enquiries, contact the Ondine office in Marratxi: +34 971 48 51 06
Written by Gemma Sherlock
About the author
After many years of moving around, Gemma, her husband and 2 children settled in Mallorca.
She loves exploring novels and plays, words and meanings and writing in a variety of ways. Not realising that it was something that she would miss, Gemma is happy to have found a new outlet in Nourish.
Why Nourish the Kids? Words, language and especially writing have always been a focus and priority for Gemma.
She likes to express herself thoughtfully and with clarity whether writing or speaking and enjoys discussing and researching new ideas and topics, particularly when it comes to health and well-being.
Likes: Circuit training, pilates, cooking from Ottolenghi books, pukka tea, hummus, reflexology, the audible app, Spanish lessons at MTA and thoughtfulness.