The Power of One to Go Green

By Karyn Saunders

During the five years that we have been in Panama, I have seen a tremendous improvement in how the country deals with its garbage and the environment as a whole.  Although we are still not at the same standards as Europe and North America, little by little Panama is getting it together in areas of recycling, waste management and alternative power sources such as wind and solar energy.  I have always believed that although I may not be able to make a difference overnight, and I do know that Rome was not built in a day, the collective efforts of a few will eventually make a difference on the whole.

Plastic anything drives me nuts.  I still do not understand why so many people insist on buying huge plastic bottles of water when the solution can be as inexpensive as a Brita Water Filter.

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Our water comes from a filtered system through our refrigerator, and over a year ago I made a pact that whenever possible I buy glass.  I have since recycled them into oil and vinegar bottles and I have reused them time and time again for water and other liquids that can easily be taken on the go.

Our bed and breakfast is located on Contadora Island which is approximately one square mile in total size.  Island living in the tropics has taken us a to a whole new level of preserving and caring for our environment.  The water on the island is captured rain.  Many homes have 1,000-gallon holding tanks where the captured water is stored.  The small lake on the island is where the other homes that do not have holding tanks get their water 12 months of the year.   When the rains stop in December, the whole island then relies on what they have stored and the rain that is left in the lake.  The lake does goes dry every year, and the water is then barged in to fill the void until the rain starts.  Our B&B has over 12,000 gallons of storage space for rain water and we treat it like gold.  All of our guests are educated on our water system and are encouraged to be conscious while still enjoying the luxury of a hot shower.  We bring our drinking water out from the mainland in containers and we have two Brita Water filters in our B&B.
Electricity on the island is diesel-generated on a neighboring island and is extremely expensive and extremely harmful to the environment.   Anyone who leaves their room and neglects to turn off the air conditioning will find it is turned off for them.  We do tell all of our guests about the rules before they arrive, and the majority of the time our guests are as conscious as we are.  Mis-use of electricity is something we do not take lightly as I do know that one day we may all be in the dark.
A few months ago I challenged myself to reduce my use of plastic bags to zero over a two-week period.  While I didn’t get to zero, I was pretty close.  In the 14 days, I only acquired five plastic bags and they were for the chicken and meat that I bought from behind the counter.  There are so many compact environment-friendly sacks on the market that can be stored in the car.
Just moving to Panama has allowed us to reduce our carbon footprint in the world.  I am no longer commuting 30 minutes to and from work every day.  If I forget something at the store, I try to wait until my next trip to pick it up.  Our plane, of course, is in no way a green vehicle, but I think this is why we do all we can to make a difference in other areas of our life.  I travel to the city on the bus 80% of the time and we both walk to our destinations when we can.
As I said, Rome was not built in a day.  However, I often think if everyone in the community reduced their plastic bag usage to five bags per week and bought a water filter, our world out here in the beaches and on the island would be a different place.

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