My Quest to Go Plastic-Free While Living on a Caribbean Island

Many shampoo and soap bottles on a bathroom or shower shelf.
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One morning, I came out of the shower, reached for my towel and found myself face-to-face with a shelf full of different products. Although I used these things every day, I looked at the shelf as if I had seen it for the first time, and I was horrified. Staring back at me were bottles of shampoo, conditioner, aloe vera gel, dog shampoo, hydrogen peroxide, body lotion and some oils. Except for the oils, everything was in plastic bottles.

That view inspired me to embark on a plastic journey.

My mission was to reduce the number of plastic-encased products on my shelf. I wanted to find out how easy it would be for the average family to find products that were not packaged in plastic, and further, how easy that would be for people like me, living on islands and more remote locations around the world.

I started where I was — the island of Grand Bahama — looking for plastic-free alternatives at local shopping centers. After three unsuccessful attempts, it seemed I’d have to take my search elsewhere.

A short time later, I had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. and asked a very patient friend to take me shopping for products in non-plastic containers; I thought for sure that I would have better luck with it in the States. I started with big-box chains and grocery stores like Target, Walmart and Publix. Again, I found nothing suitable. 

I then moved on to markets that pride themselves on selling environmentally friendly and holistic products, such as Sprouts and Whole Foods. Despite the higher prices and all the fantastic labels depicting chemical-free, healthy and eco-friendly formulas, the containers were primarily plastic. I found a few facial tonics, the usual essential oils and a hair oil in glass bottles, but nothing else. 

I dragged my friend to even more specialized stores like The Body Shop and Bath and Body Works, ending my search in the high-end cosmetic counters of Macy’s and similar department stores. Wherever I went, the results were the same.

It was a long and frustrating search. No matter the quality of the store, the price tag of the product or the environmental-friendliness of the ingredients, about 98% of items came in plastic.

So, I went back to the Bahamas with little to show for my efforts, resolving to make substitutions where I could. I swapped out body wash for bar soap, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have friends send a shampoo bar and homemade body cream and toothpaste in glass jars. I also found a company that produces body oils in glass bottles, but they’re costly. 

With the tremendous help of friends and some extra money, my shelf has changed little by little. But, while these things help, my journey is far from over. 

Aside from the bar I was gifted, my shampoo and conditioner still come in plastic. I try to buy bigger bottles to reduce the waste, but there are no refill facilities or recycling locations on the island, so they go in the trash once empty. Thus far, I’ve also had no luck finding products for my pups that are not in plastic bottles.

The next natural step would be to make some of these products myself. However, many of the necessary ingredients aren’t readily available on the island.

So, how practical and easy is it for the average family to reduce its waste? With extra money — sometimes quite a lot — extra effort and time to spare, it’s possible to reduce or even eliminate the plastic present on your bathroom shelf.

But for the average household, it’s far from a simple task. And if you live in a remote part of the world, it can become nearly impossible to do.

We keep talking about individual solutions and taking pledges; we promise to reduce the use of straws and plastic bags, and many of us try our best to refuse, reuse and recycle where we can. But we have a problem requiring a top-down solution, and we need more drastic intervention. 

Change needs to come from the companies themselves. If we can reduce the amount of plastic we sell, we will reduce the amount of plastic we throw away.

Packages need to be more environmentally friendly, with products coming in refillable containers for repeated use. Refill stations should be a cheaper norm rather than an expensive rarity. Pricing should facilitate more eco-friendly choices, not deter them. Why is being environmentally conscious a luxury very few can afford?

If my plastic journey has taught me anything, it’s that placing the burden on the individual is not an effective or practical solution to reducing the world’s waste.

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