Plastic in paradise


The crew of Two Drifters see the world's plastic problem first hand.

Sailing around the San Blas Islands off the Atlantic coast of Panama are every bit as breathtakingly-beautiful as the photos suggest. However, with one hidden horror, the beaches are being suffocated by plastic waste.

While much of the plastic has, quite literally, sailed itself across the Atlantic or Caribbean Sea, there’s also a fair amount that’s been haphazardly dumped, either on land or just floating in the water. Croc shoes and broken flip-flops feature highly. It’s a devastating sight.


With no refuse facilities on the islands, the locals have no alternative other than to burn their everyday rubbish; and sadly that includes plastic too. From a global health perspective, low heat burning on the beach is the worst thing you could do with plastic. They don’t have a choice about what they do with their waste, however we do.

In this part of the world, cruisers are advised not to give locals money to dispose of their rubbish for the very fact that it will either be put on a fire, tipped into the ocean or left on the beach.

We recently came across several large bin bags, abandoned on a deserted island, full of mixed rubbish including a mass of cans, bottles, cardboard and plastic.  Rather than leave them behind we picked them up; sorted out and washed the bottles, plastic and other waste and kept it on board until we reached a marina with recycling.


It appals me that when the lifestyle of the Western world is not at our fingertips, how easily some people forget how to take care of the ocean and the coastline that they so proudly enjoy exploring.

When we don’t have facilities at our fingertips, we have to get better educated at how to dispose of this debris.  I am not a recycling connoisseur by any means, but I am learning; even to the point that the tea bags we have on board contain a certain plastic, so they cannot be classed as organic waste.  

One solution we use on Two Drifters while cruising is turning wide-neck plastic bottles with tops into a bin, which we fill with smaller plastic rubbish we’ve rinsed such as film wrappers, yoghurt pots, margarine tubs. It keeps the volume down and the smell contained.

We rinse and recycle zip-lock bags and also use containers to keep food fresh, reducing the amount of cling film and silver foil.

As we explored these beautiful islands and deserted beaches, we collected as much plastic as we could hold in the boat’s front lockers; amounting to 15 large bags, which at the end of our six-week trip we took into a marina to recycle.


We need to work harder and collectively to not only clean the washed-up plastic off our world’s beaches, but to dispose of it in an environmentally-friendly manner.

More from Two Drifters:

Follow that dream
Sailing the Western Mediterranean
Sailing the Ionian - the making of a novice sailor
The challenge of the night watch
Go West
Cruising the Canaries
Cruising in company
Cruising in Colombia