Community organization calls for waste-free beaches amid pandemic

Says education at an early stage is key to promoting environmental stewardship

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

As Puerto Rico approaches its peak vacation season, a local community organization on Sunday called on citizens and tourists to keep beaches waste-free and promote the protection of the island’s natural resources.

Puerto Rico Cambia, an organization with more than 1,000 volunteers that seeks to persuade islanders to become agents of change, visited the beaches of Crash Boat in Aguadilla and Isla Verde in Carolina to hand out garbage bags and encourage beachgoers to pick up any trash they see around them.

Jorge Pagán, executive director of the nonprofit organization founded in 2014, told the STAR that the reception from beachgoers was very positive. Some were even “asking for an extra bag to split the trash between what was waste and what could be recycled.”

“Both my volunteers and I saw that people were becoming more aware of keeping their surroundings clean. Others already had their bags ready to pick up their waste, while yet others even pointed out how the island does not have recycling programs,” Pagán told the newspaper. “I was surprised when I heard that.”

However, the Puerto Rico Cambia chief said both he and volunteers found many surgical masks, an item mostly used to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease, disposed of inappropriately.

“People must be aware that face masks can become waste and pollute our environment,” he said. “We remind citizens to visit our beaches with their face masks, but we must put them or throw them away.”

When asked how islanders could continue raising awareness on keeping Puerto Rico’s natural resources waste-free, Pagán said “including education on the importance of recycling and reducing waste in both public and private schools are fundamental to raise awareness at an early stage.”

“I am 26 years old, and obviously Puerto Rico has more than just young people; however, when you ask a person of my generation, they will tell you that it was little to nothing that was spoken in schools about recycling,” he said. “There’s a consciousness now that not only must we wake up, but we have to nourish simultaneously.”

He also said effective public service announcements and policies from the Legislature were essential in the fight against pollution.

“We faced an inconvenience at the Carolina beach where a municipal employee told us that we required special permission to pick up the trash we found,” Pagán told the STAR. “Here, we faced an example where we need to understand that we must not wait for the authorities to take action for the environment.”

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