Plastics in Paradise

Principle Investigator: Megan Shaw

Faculty Sponsor: A.J. Faas

Other Sponsors: Berth Kalm Scholarship for Making a Difference in Humanity (SJSU Office of Graduate Studies), Inez and Donald Burdick Scholarship (SJSU College of Social Sciences) Department of Anthropology Grad Grant

The focus of my research is on plastic consumption and waste management on the island of San Pedro, Belize. I spent five weeks in the community in June 2018 conducting interviews, participant observation, attending community events, and working as an intern for a local NGO. My internship with through an organization called the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), a nongovernmental watchdog organization focused on the Belizian government’s Tourism Board (BTB). For my internship, I worked with another local volunteer to create a curriculum for the San Pedro Junior College that incorporated aspects of garbage and waste education and awareness. We were able to create two course components for fourteen different classes, ranging from microeconomics to reef conservation. The hope is that this curriculum will be embraced by the instructors and foster the development of community-level education and awareness the issue of consumption and waste management.

Through this internship, I also participated in an island clean-up hosted by the BTIA in November 2018. The organizers set lofty goals and were able to gain in-kind and monetary donations from many people. I spent the majority of my time helping the local workers at the transfer station (garbage dump) unload and sort waste collected from roadsides and the mangroves. Several community issues were highlighted during this clean up. One was that many businesses were paying for garbage to be hauled and were unaware that the hired workers were dumping it illegally instead of bringing it to the transfer station. Proof also surfaced that waste directly tied to the council had been illegally dumped into the mangroves. As the four-day clean-up drew to a close, the BTIA vowed to continue pushing the local government for stricter enforcement of illegal dumping fines and for their support in continued remediation of polluted areas. My participation in both projects enabled me to delve deeper into community issues and meet numerous people with fantastic insights and experiences. My involvement with the BTIA provided me with context and connections while I worked on collecting data and these connections will continue to be an integral part of my research in the future.

This research and my time in Belize would not have been possible without the support and funding the Berth Kalm Scholarship, the Inez and Donald Burdick Scholarship, and the SJSU Anthropology Department Grad Grant. My advisor, A.J. Faas, has also been a fantastic mentor through this process and will continue to be as I work through my analysis and writing phase of this project.

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