“Nothing like a little adjustment to spice up one’s life”
You could say I’m a bit of a daydreamer. I have been known to walk to the shop, for example, and not even remember how I got there. Many of my hours have been spent day dreaming about living on a tropical beach and working as a Scuba Diving Instructor. Probably a common dream for a lot of people actually. But a couple of months ago, I was able to turn my dream into reality.
I have been living on the beautiful tropical island of Little Corn, Nicaragua. Fairly remote, it was once a common stop off for pirates (in fact, it’s still believed that there is treasure buried somewhere on the island) but today, it is a paradisiacal mixture of creole culture, tourism and island life.
The island is about 3km squared in size. There are no roads here and in turn no cars and no traffic (thank the gods). The only motorised vehicles are the boats. The electricity is off between 6am and 1pm everyday and there are no banks, no atm’s and no big markets. Supplies are brought to the island every Saturday from the mainland and it’s common for fresh produce to run out by the end of the week. Life here is simple and quiet and completely intoxicating.
Living here zero waste has not come without its challenges. I’ve definitely had to make some adjustments but I believe that is one of the great learning opportunities that zero waste presents.
My zero waste island adjustments – food, cooking and cleaning
I’m living in a cute and tiny little cabin on the beach. I have a bed, a small table and chair and a gas stove. I don’t have a fridge or a sink or a cupboard. This is probably the first time I have lived without a fridge and I really didn’t realise how much I would miss it. It has greatly reduced the amount of food I can keep fresh in this tropical climate. I also live with about 100,000 ants. They are unavoidable and with all of the cracks in my wooden cabin, they are impossible to keep out. They love everything, not just food!
So, food, cooking and cleaning have become big areas of adjustment for me. I only keep food that I can eat in one go. I then throw any food scraps on the tree next to my cabin. Fresh water via UV filtration is supplied for free in town to anyone, so I am able to keep fresh water stored in my two water-to-go bottles and I have repurposed an old 1.75L rum bottle to store extra.
I also take advantage of the great zero waste loophole of eating out. I love eating out here, the local food is delicious and there’s a few european style restaurants that also have great menus. I always remember to bring my own water bottle and takeaway container. In most of the restaurants, they provide cutlery already wrapped in a napkin. At first, I didn’t use these because of the napkin but I have since decided to use the cutlery and then use the napkin later as toilet paper.
As most of you know, I absolutely love drinking loose tea but there is no loose tea for sale on the island. I now drink fresh cut ginger tea and have learned that the leaves of a cinnamon tree also taste great as tea. And lucky for me, the owner’s of my cabin grow lemongrass and mint. My friend also gave me some loose tea he didn’t like in a container I can reuse (still so thankful for that!). It’s the little luxuries in life, like loose tea, that make me feel at home and comfortable.
I sadly had to make a compromise when it came to cleaning. My cabin is a constant sandpit which actually doesn’t really bother me. I just dust and sweep regularly. No cleaning products required there. But cleaning my dishes was another story. I refused to buy a sponge so I just use the two flannels I carry everywhere with me. I also refused to buy a scourer for my frypan which is definitely not non-stick. Instead, I just soak the pan while I eat and then use my wooden spoon to scrape the food off.
The compromise is in the cleaning product. I couldn’t afford to use my natural body soap (which is also great for washing clothes and dishes). So I finally caved and bought some dishwashing detergent. That was a sad day but I’ve made peace with it now.
Even though the lack of food storage situation made things a little difficult in the beginning, I’m totally used to it now and my routine has become an easy one. Nothing like a little adjustment to spice up one’s life.
Zero waste and healthcare
Another area of my life where I had to make a compromise and purchase packaged items was healthcare. When in the water, diving often mixed with a tropical climate, little nicks and cuts can quickly turn into huge, infected wounds. Therefore, I had to purchase some alcohol and bandaids to keep these cuts clean and dry.
Looking after my health is of course my number one priority. I just try my best to use these items sparingly to make them last longer. I also do my best to drink a lot of water, eat a varied diet and stay active for I believe that all of these things keep me healthy and make me heal faster.
Zero waste body care
I’ve always said that preparation is crucial when living zero waste and coming to a remote island meant that my preparation had to be pretty precise. While I did my best to pre-prepare all of my body care products (oil, baking soda, soap etc) before I came to the island, I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I ran out. But lucky for me, my boss at Derek’s Place actually makes all natural body care products – shampoo, conditioner, soap, cold pressed coconut oil and mosquito repellent just to name a few. And what’s even better, all of the packaging is reusable and my boss is happy to refill the bottles. She also accepts bottles back to be cleaned and reused. I’m so lucky to have a boss that is so eco-conscious. It has made my life so much easier here!
But what about the rubbish on the island?
Ok, let’s talk about the elephant in the room here – the rubbish!
There is no official waste disposal system here on the island. Through talking with locals and expats, I have learned that rubbish is disposed of in one of 3 ways. Throwing it onto the land, burning it or paying to send it away to the landfill on the mainland. Number 3 sounds like the best option right? However, sadly, there have been many reports of the rubbish being dumped straight back into the ocean once out of sight of the island.
The most common way I have seen used is burning. Many reports say different things as to whether burning rubbish is worse than landfill or not but in a situation like this, where no official or standard waste disposal system has been put in place, I wonder if this is the lesser of two evils.
Nearly the entire coastline around the island is littered with trash, some areas worse than others but still covered in trash nonetheless. Some of it is clearly trash from people living here that has blown around the island but a lot of it has washed up on shore everyday brought in by the circulating currents. This is not just an island problem but a global problem that is also adding to the situation here.
Everyday, I pick up rubbish. Whether it’s on my way to work (a 20 minute walk) or just at the local beach that I live on. The coastline is completely littered with multicoloured microplastics that have arrived from the wind and the waves along with larger pieces of trash too. I always wonder what these tiny pieces of plastics were to begin with!
Some days I feel a little discouraged by the sheer amount of rubbish that is settled here on the island but I remind myself that every little bit helps. So I continue to pick up rubbish when I see it and I continue to talk to others about the situation also.
With that being said, there are definitely a lot of eco-minded people here on the island trying to reduce waste. A few of the restaurants here like Cafe Desideri and Tranquilo use metal straws instead of plastic straws. Desideri also provides free UV filtered drinking water to everyone, so no need to keep purchasing plastic bottles. Tranquilo is 50% powered by solar electricity and is working towards making that 100%. There is a ‘Return for reuse’ scheme here on the island with all glass bottles (beer and soft drink). The owners of the cafes and restaurants actually purchase the bottles so they want them returned so they can keep their investment. Once the bottles are returned, they are cleaned, refilled and sent back to be resold.
There are a few recycling bins around the island with the most successfully used ones being at Little Corn Beach & Bungalows (it seems). They happily accept plastic and aluminium and send it back to the mainland to be recycled.
There are also ideas in the works to start using the plastic in construction. This kind of thing has been done before all throughout Central and South America and would really make a difference here if the plastic was utilised for this purpose. Fingers crossed these plans will come to fruition.
My time on Little Corn Island has been a great learning experience so far. Everyday I am meeting new people with eco-friendly ideas and practices and happily sharing my own zero waste philosophy and experience. The island is incredibly beautiful; the nature and the people are both inspiring and enchanting. It’s hard to find anything to complain about here (not that I’m trying!), it truly is a paradise and I am forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had here.
I can’t recommend Little Corn Island enough, it should definitely be on everyone’s travel bucket list!
Love Kat xx