Plastic bottle beach

Is it OK to burn plastic?

We have seen a few over the years, but this plastic bottle beach was one of the most disappointing we have stepped onto.

Just a short hop by dinghy from our anchorage on Pulau Sepanggar, we had been looking at the tiny island of Pulau Udar Besar for a few days. It appeared to be uninhabited with a spectacular white strip of west-facing beach . Could it be a good place for a barbecue?

As we drew closer, our hearts sank. A thick scum of rubbish (mostly plastic bottles) spread the entire length of an otherwise pristine stretch of sand.

plastic bottle beach

The island is clearly visible from the hotels of Kota Kinabalu and the resorts of Pulau Sepanggar. Surely it must be a great place to stop for a swim or picnic, so why is it in such bad shape? Has two years of zero tourism in Sabah meant the island has fallen down the list of priorities?

Whatever the reason for the appalling amount of plastic and rubbish floating around the waters off Kota Kinabalu, including the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, let’s hope that someone makes it their mission to clear up the water soon.

plastic bottle beach
Clear some space for your towel…

But what should be done with plastic rubbish? Is it OK to burn it?

Since heading east from the Mediterranean and arriving in India back in 2010, we’ve become used to the smell of burning plastic at evening time on the coast, in villages, mountains and even cities… It’s often the only option on this side of the planet.

If you lived on a small island or a remote community where there is no refuse collection, how would you dispose of your plastic trash?

We’ve been living in Sabah since January 2020, trapped since the borders closed. At the time of filming this episode, the population was barred from commuting between districts and states, so our world had dwindled to a short stretch of coastline.

We’re living a kind of Groundhog Day aboard SY Esper. Although we can’t think of anywhere else we would prefer to have spent the last two years than Sabah, we crave the opportunity to move on.

After sailing back and forth along the coast for a few weeks, we headed to the marina for some provisioning and repairs. This time we took the shallow, reef-strewn channel that runs alongside Kota Kinabalu’s busy port. The sounds and smells brought back the bustle and excitment of all the big cities we’ve sailed into before.

It was great to experience a different aspect of our home after all this time.

But by the time we arrived at the marina we knew we had a problem. Both our VHF radio and AIS had stopped working. What next?

Check out the video here…

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2 thoughts on “Is it OK to burn plastic?”

    1. Me too! There doesn’t seem to be any impetus or desire to tackle the problem at a national or international level. People on the ground aren’t going to change their attitudes without a big stick or a carrot and certainly education. But it needs to be tackled as an worldwide emergency, just like Covid… Cheers! Liz

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