Now that the weather is turning colder many of us are turning South. A lot of people enjoy spending at least some part of winter in warmer climates. Can you blame them? It always feels so freeing when you can walk outside without the process of hats, boots, mitts and parka first.
Last February marked my first trip South in the dead of winter. A group of five friends and I ventured off to Cuba for a full seven days. The trip was all it promised to be and more; fun, historic sites, food, drinks and lots of them. You may think, `what`s not to love?` But there was one big thing not to love on this trip; litter- tonnes of litter.
I didn`t know, as a newbie, how the all-inclusive system worked. Luckily for me a friend on the trip had been before and recommended that we all bring some kind of re-usable insulated cup. This information was invaluable not just for me, but for the environment. If you have been on an all inclusive vacation before then you will know the feeling of shock at the number of plastic, disposable cups being used at countless resorts across the Caribbean. The length of time it takes these cups to break down varies according to which source you look at, but according to the : U.S. National Park Service; Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, FL; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program it takes about 450 years.
“The length of time it takes these cups to break down varies according to which source you look at, but but according to the : U.S. National Park Service it takes about 450 years.”
Every single drink you consume in the blaring island heat, and 30 degree weather comes in a small plastic cup. Think of only the six of us, over seven days. How many cups would we have gone through if that friend had not prepared us? Then, think of all the people who visit over months on end in the tourist season. It is a staggering amount of garbage.
We literally saw people just throw cups when they were finished. Throw them to no particular place, just throw away and go get another. I love my country and I love my fellow Canadians, but there were times I was embarrassed to be counted among people who could treat the planet so cruelly. And what is worse, is that I don`t think these people would have done that at home. We as Canadians seemed to leave our environmental values back home.
The consumption was a shock on the resort, but it was all the more shocking when we got to what, from a distance, was the beautiful beach of Varadero. My heart absolutely sank. The beach was riddled with plastic cups, cigarette butts, tissue and magazine inserts. Some of my friends and I did a mini-beach cleanup, but it felt like a drop in the Ocean.
When I got home I told another friend about this aspect of the trip and she thought it was fascinating. How interesting that Cuba caters to us with some of the world`s worst one time use items. A country known for their extremes of re-use. This is how they see our culture, and I am afraid we are not doing much to change that perception.
Everything we do has an impact on the environment, and that is why my vacation top tip if you are going away this winter, is to take a cup. I certainly want people to have fun and feel free when they enjoy southern climates, but with minimal planning and a cute re-usable cup you can truly enjoy your vacation knowing that you have done your part for our global environment. Apply this vacation top tip and show that Canada is still a country that cares.
Courtney Baker is the Administrative Assistant at The Couchiching Conservancy, a non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting nature for future generations.