When I was living in Australia, I felt very hopeful that there was something we could do to make things better. Every time I went to the beach I picked some rubbish up. At home, I could recycle all my rubbish. I had a water bottle and a water filter at home so I didn’t have to buy plastic bottles. Every time I went to buy a coffee, I brought my reusable cup and not to mention going to the shops always with our reusable bags. There are so many options of products that aren’t harmful for the environment. I felt like I was saving the world, one choice at a time, and I felt good.
Then I came back to Ecuador and everything changed. I could no longer clean the beaches in one go. In some of the beaches I would’ve needed a truck to pick up all the rubbish. And that’s not even half the problem. In some small towns, there’s no proper rubbish recollection not to mention, hardly any recycling projects. I felt like I was drowning in plastic everywhere I went. I was seeing the reality of how the rest of the world was living. The first few weeks back, I couldn’t stop thinking about the problem with the rubbish and what I could do.
Poor Mick, every time we would go for a walk I would bring my bag with me and pick up rubbish. He’s always keen to help, but I think, probably I was becoming a bit compulsive with my rubbish picking. I couldn’t help myself. We had been talking about what we could do with the rubbish on the beach. We had done some brainstorming but we hadn’t hit the right idea yet.
One day during a walk from Las Tunas to Ayampe on the coast of Ecuador, it became very clear to us, what we needed to do.
In the middle of our way there, we saw a pelican tangled in a fishing line. It was a horrible thing to see. The poor thing was so tired and the tide was pretty high so it was being washed by the waves unable to do anything. I immediately started to cry and shake. Carefully, Mick and I grabbed the pelican with our towels and started to free it from the line.
There was a passerby that didn’t even flinch when he saw what we were trying to do. I had to beg him to help us, but he hesitated and continued. After a few minutes of struggle we were able to free it from the hook that was stuck inside its beak and detangled it from the fishing line. We placed it a bit higher so that the waves couldn’t get to it. But that’s all we could do at the moment. It was getting dark and we were both carrying our boards. We were still probably 40 minutes away from our destination and even if we wanted to, there’s no vet around or refuge places to take injured animals to.
We were frustrated, sad and feeling helpless. I felt guilty for leaving it there but I was mainly feeling anger. Anger at how things hadn’t changed in 10 years; anger at how many bad things humans were causing to the earth and all the living things that live in it.
But now I’m thankful that this happened, because this was our trigger, this was our moment to give us the inspiration to come up with an idea of what to do and how to make a difference.
On the walk from there to our place in Ayampe we couldn’t stop talking. We were disgusted by all the rubbish along the beach. We knew that picking it up was a good thing to do but wasn’t going to solve anything. There would always be more rubbish the next day. We wanted to do a bit more, a way to spread the message, to make people realize what their impact to the environment was.
We realized that in all our pickups we usually found a lot of bottle caps. We thought that it would be a great material to work with. I still had no clue on what to do with them. Thankfully, I married a very resourceful man, and he then came up with the idea of making doormats out of them. I went to bed at peace that night after Mick said : “Don’t worry, we’ll go back tomorrow, and will walk again from Las Tunas to Ayampe. We’ll pick up all the bottle caps and we’ll check on our friend the pelican”.
I wish I could say that the next day the pelican was doing great. Well, it wasn’t. It had died overnight, but that only gave us more determination, that we had to do something with the impact that us humans are having on the environment. That day, we picked up as many bottle caps as we could.
Every time we go to the beach now, we collect hundreds of bottle caps. I know there are thousands of pieces of rubbish left on the beach, but at least we are getting rid of some of it. At least we are helping in some way.
With these doormats we want to share our message. I was surprised to learn that many of my friends here in Ecuador had never heard of the plastic islands in the ocean. I even had one of my good friends asking me to explain to her why it was so important to recycle our rubbish.
So, one doormat at a time we want to share this message: We need to become the change we want to see. We are all responsible for our mother earth. We need to start thinking of our choices and how much rubbish we produce.
We need to follow the 3 Rs but in the right order: First reduce. For me, reducing is the most important of all Rs. We live in a throwaway society, but we are not thinking where the rubbish ends up. We keep our rubbish bins locked up inside little doors, so we kind of hide what we are throwing away. We have to realize this rubbish is not disappearing. Especially things made of plastic, will never disappear, so if you decide to buy plastic, you are buying something that will outlive you. Therefore we need to reduce the things we buy. We need to think first, do I really need it? Can I repair what I already have or reuse it in a different way.
We need to reuse. Reuse the plastic bags we already have. Reuse that plastic bottle before you throw it. Reuse your clothes or shoes by donating them to someone that needs it. And finally we need to recycle. Separating our rubbish so that the people that collects it has an easier job.
I must admit I’m not a saint. I do sometimes buy plastic. I’m not saying I’m perfect, but I do try. I try everyday because I see firsthand the destruction we are causing to the environment and I’ve also taken the time to learn about what’s happening. I’ve learned about the 5 gyres in the ocean; these currents that circle around and gather all our plastic pollution and are big floating islands, some bigger than the state of Texas in the US. I know about the albatrosses ingesting plastic and feeding it to their babies and all dying from it. And I have understood that we are all connected. That if the ocean and the species in it are suffering, we as humans will suffer too. We are all interconnected and interdependent. We need to start opening our eyes and changing our behaviour.
Our plan now is to continue picking up bottle caps wherever we go. We’ll continue making the doormats and luckily do some talks about plastic pollution and things we can do to undermine our impact. Even if we can’t do the talks in a big scale, just by showing our work, we are spreading the message and at least starting a conversation about plastic pollution.
Here’s a few photos to show the process to make the doormats. We’ve named them I.M. Recycled. I for Isabel and M for Mick.