Additionally, in 2019, the production and incineration of plastic is projected to produce 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases, equivalent to pollution from 189 500-megawatt coal plants.
Single-use plastic is particularly wasteful, accounting for one third of all plastic, with each piece used, on average, for a few minutes before being thrown away. It then persists in the environment for up to 1,000 years. The Bahamas does not have the capacity for recycling, and waste is disposed of in landfills and incinerators.
A Plastic Warrior for the Ocean
Once, while working at an aquarium in The Bahamas, Kristal Ambrose, 29, spent two days helping to pull plastic out of a sea turtle that had internal blockage. After this experience, she vowed, “I’ll never drop a piece of plastic on the ground again.” At age 22, Ambrose joined an expedition to study the Western garbage patch, the mass of marine debris that is part of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the north Pacific Ocean. Examining the waste, she noted that all the debris “were things that I was using at home—plastic bags, Styrofoam, plastic cutlery, straws.” Ambrose returned from the expedition inspired to tackle plastic waste and, in 2013, founded the Bahamas Plastic Movement to develop solutions to plastic pollution and educate youths in The Bahamas.
Channeling the Power of Youth
In 2013, continuing her ongoing education on both oceans and plastic, Ambrose researched how plastic moves through the marine environment and onto Eleuthera Island, where she lives. Through the Bahamas Plastic Movement, she created numerous programs to engage, empower, and educate local youths, including tuition-free youth camps to train the country’s next environmental leaders. During camp, students conduct surveys of plastics on beaches, trawl on boats measuring microplastics on sea surface, dissect mahi-mahi fish to determine stomach plastic content, and learn how lifestyle on land impacts ocean health.
Ambrose also designed an “upcycled” program that encourages students to think creatively about repurposing plastic waste, a “trashion fashion show” featuring student-created plastic clothing and accessories, and a Junior Plastic Warriors environmental education program with music, dance, and art activities for kids.
Convinced that a ban on single-use plastics was the strongest local solution, Ambrose set her sights on policy change. She drafted legislation to share with the government and conducted energetic outreach and advocacy on the issue across the country.
In January 2018, Ambrose and her students traveled from Eleuthera Island to Nassau to meet the environment minister. Students entered his office singing, “We are the change, we are the solution, we can fix this plastic pollution.” They had a lively discussion on the environmental and economic impacts of plastic waste, and the minister agreed that he would address the issue.
On April 23, 2018, the environment minister officially announced a ban on single-use plastic bags, food utensils, straws and Styrofoam. The ban was officially adopted in January 2020 and will be enforced with fines in the thousands of dollars starting in July 2020.
Operating outside of the traditional power structures in The Bahamas, Ambrose used science, strategic advocacy, and youth empowerment to get her country focused on plastics; then she convinced the government to enact a nation-wide single-use plastic ban. This is the first Prize for The Bahamas.