The People You Meet Picking Up Beach Plastic


Serenely beautiful, surreal, spiritual. 

Three weeks on the sugar-white sands of Tulum, contemplating the sometimes jade, sometimes topaz, sometimes evening blue Caribbean.  On days when the sea was perfectly flat and clear you could watch the sting rays and barracudas swimming around.  Yes, near you. 

My husband swam every day.  I sat under a big green shady coconut palm. 

Every morning I would pull a bag from my beach tote and for a few minutes collect all the plastics strewn along the high water mark.  Mostly straws, cigarette filters, broken colored plastics, an occasional water bottle.  I always filled up my bag. 

In mid-afternoon our favorite beach vendor would appear.  Jorge, the “coconut king” (anointed by an Hawaiian visitor, he told us), would saunter over in his faded cutoffs, straw hat, a bag of ripe cocos hoisted on his shoulder, a short machete in his belt, smiling.  Cold coconuts!  His secret, he said, was the special inland farm where he carefully hand selected 100 or so cocos each week, storing 20 overnight in his refrig.

I loved his friendly smile, but his most endearing feature, for me, was:  he offered bioplastic straws!  A big selling point with Americans, he said.  Hey, even made in Mexico!

Jorge wasn’t always so environmentally conscious.  It was his girlfriend, Alejandra who changed him. He used to smoke, he said, and Alejandra would pick up the plastic filters he threw on the ground. What are you doing that for? he used to scold her.  She just kept picking up his filters until finally he started to himself, and eventually quit smoking altogether.  He wanted Alejandra to meet us, but she is sick alot.  She has chronic asthma.



On the last few days of our stay, I noticed a slim figure in a black bikini also collecting washed ashore marine debris.  As she approached us a fellow ran towards her with a huge black bag.  For you, here, take this, he offered.  I guess it was that tiny bikini.  

Of all things, it turns out she was from Southold, 20 miles from my place in Orient.  Her main residence is New York, with a business as a sustainable fashion activist directing brands and clients into the circular eco friendly movement.

Standing in paradise, we commiserated about plastic pollution, so much ending up in the ocean.  I told her about this new group I’m involved with, just getting started in Southampton: Drawdown East End.  I’m in, she said.  And I promised to let her know when we start our community outreach and weekly drop-in meetings, upcoming film festivals, etc. 

Plastics is one of the top 100 solutions listed in Drawdown: the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.

These 100 top solutions are already working somewhere, proven methodologies, best practices, to avoid, reduce or sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, in other words, drawing down carbon and reversing global warming.  

Bioplastic is solution #47.  Not to be confused with so-called biodegradable plastics made from petrochemicals, or eco/recycled plastics (plastics made from recycled plastic materials rather than raw petrochemicals), bioplastics are made from all-natural, renewable raw materials, such as corn starch. (California requires labeling, by law, to keep the terms separated, why not New York?)  The Drawdown scientists and economists analyzed that the production of plastics will double between now and 2050. Their growth model revealed that an aggressive growth of bio-plastics to capture 49% of the market, could avoid gigatons of carbon emissions (4.9 gigatons in their analysis.)   That is why bioplastic is solution #47 out of 100. 

On a shoestring budget Drawdown’s Paul Hawken pulled together scientists, economists and research fellows to see if we already had the means and techniques at hand to reduce C02 by halting emissions, conservation, efficiency, sequestration and substituting fuels with renewable clean energy.  His inspirational book is a plan, a path, a map, that measures and models growth solutions inviting us all to see climate change as an opportunity.  An opportunity to get in on a new fast-growing clean economy, an opportunity for better health, an opportunity for us all to take meaningful actions for a positive future.

One of Hawken’s research fellow talks about the 3 levels of empowerment:

  1. Personal – what you can do personally, with your family and those you influence, to draw down carbon.
  2. Community – what you can do with friends, neighbors, local businesses, non profits, in your community.
  3. National and international – what national policy changes can you advocate and vote for, what’s working in other states, other countries?

I’m inspired to take the next step.  I’m looking around to see how I can not only collect marine debris plastic, as I always do, but, in addition, to scale up, use best practices, be part of the solution, i.e. change my plastic habits .  They are just habits, after all.  I can stop, conserve, substitute.  I can stop buying, stop using, I can find substitutions with bioplastics, I can use real stuff.   

As I look around, I see so many like-minded others refusing plastics and finding substitutes. I feel empowered by our growing can-do community.   I’m empowered by my new knowledge, my power of the purse, my power of personal choice.  #StopSingleUse.  #ReduceReturnRecycleREFUSE!   #UseRealStuff.

Here’s some local, national and international resources and good news:


Mary Morgan, Orient

For more info:


About Mary Foster Morgan

Co-founder, Drawdown East End, a grass roots group inspiring local solutions to drawdown carbon and reverse global warming. Formerly executive director of the Guggenheim Learning Through Art program in New York, Mary moved to the North Fork and helped co-found Slow Food East End. She has deep roots in the East End; for generations her family lived and farmed in East Hampton. Mary currently lives in Orient, writes the Climate Local Now column for the East End Beacon, and takes legislative action on the Climate Action Now app.
This entry was posted in climate change, Environment, long island, sustainable energy, Uncategorized, water quality. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The People You Meet Picking Up Beach Plastic

  1. darrreillygmailcom says:

    OMG Mary this is wonderful. Your heart shines though along with all of the solutions you offer. Beautiful.

  2. James Ewing says:

    informative post Mary. Thank you !
    And congratulations on the Drawdown EE project.
    Look forward to watching it unfold.
    James E

  3. Mary Foster Morgan says:

    HI Francesca, not sure if your comment was meant for me? Maybe for David?

  4. Melissa Billinghay says:

    Wonderful read Mary. Thanks for all the great resources.

  5. Superb, Mary. THANKS.

  6. Francesca: nice piece.

    BTW when you want to ask me something in private – don’t use the comments section of the blog! It goes out to hundreds of people across the globe.

    From: Resist and Replace
    Reply-To: Resist and Replace
    Date: Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 10:26 AM
    To: David Posnett
    Subject: [EXTERNAL] [New comment] The People You Meet Picking Up Beach Plastic

    Francesca Rheann

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