Ponderings from Portugal

After five months in Singapore I headed straight back to Portugal.

Getting out of the plane, late morning in Lisbon, I was struck by the freshness of the air.  On the metro from the airport, a guy playing the accordion strolled up the train with a dog on his shoulder, as the metro lifted into the morning sun, I was greeted by the sight of old men working their allotments.  A five hours bus ride later, and nearly 30 hours in total, I arrived into the small village of Aljezur.  I was home.

That evening my friend had cooked, we hangout, it was great to be back.  In the evening the freshness had turned to bitter cold! I had four blankets, a hot water bottle at the ready, a house to myself, I went for a sleep-athon.

The following morning all I could see was fog. As the sun warmed and the fog lifted, I was greeted by the sight of the valley towards Monchique. I was blown away by the beauty of the place. The vastness, the vivid green, the spring flowers, the rolling hills with locals below working with their donkeys.

When you´re somewhere all the time it can be hard to see. Never had the place looked and felt so beautiful.

If you´ve been following my blog, you´ll know how it was Portugal´s beaches, Aljezur´s in particular, that taught me about plastic pollution.  I would work on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, with plastic pollution constantly washing up around my feet…

I didn´t blog while I was there, as this time was just a short visit. I barely opened my laptop. I was staying at Analogue Apartments, what use to be my old house but now´s much cosier!  It was lovely to be in Portugal and unplug for a couple of weeks.  I´ve left now, but this is a few things I wanted to talk about.

  • Is it possible to have a cuppa tea with out plastic in Portugal?
  • It was fantastic to attend a big beach clean, rather than arranging one!
  • Plastic bag fee came in a month ago, and it´s working!

I like a cuppa tea. It has to be said. Having been away so long I was meeting friends, I was using a café wi-fi to briefly log in. (In the hope I could quickly log out!)  I was surfing and going to café´s before and after. I was in relaxed mode, what better way is there in Portugal?

After the first couple of cups I noticed a pattern. My tea bags always came single used wrapped in a mini plastic bag?  I thought it was a coincidence, but no. Friend´s, who have just opened a restaurant told me how they are not allowed, by law, to have loose tea. They have to all be individually wrapped – in plastic – or they´ll get fined. Crazy. Especially when you consider Portugal have brought in a fee for plastic bags.  If I were staying I may have researched more, instead I put some T bags in my bag, ordered hot water and left a good tip. That´s the only way I could see around a law, that in my humble opinion, is daft!

 Beach cleaning

I arranged many beach cleans while I was in Portugal. The first big one was for the Surfrider Ocean Initiatives in 2009, I went on to do it every year after.  Often there would be anywhere up to 70 people come along during the course of the day.

I never actually got to go down to the beach much during these cleans! Instead I was in the car park for hours on end, chatting to people and educating them about plastic pollution.

As much as I enjoyed that, this year attending a beach clean my friend arranged made a nice change. I got to stroll on the beach in the afternoon sun.  Even though they´d been going a couple of hours when I arrived, I also got to see just how much plastic there was on the beach. I wasn´t surprised, it´s always there, but it´s good to be reminded why I keep going.

My friend who arranged this one did it with a student as part of her studies.  She understands and was explaining to me; Cleaning is good, but educating is just as important.

Beach cleaning, yes it´s fantastic, it moves plastic pollution from the tide line and stops it washing back out to sea to be eaten by marine animals, but…

…if all we do is clean, clean is all we´ll ever do.

We need to educate, to educate prevention. During the clean my friend´s husband had an idea, that alone could save 100s of plastic bottles over a season. (and the tops, and the plastic that wraps the plastic bottles.)

I´m not gunna say what it is after the T bag law!  Lets just say, it´s a great idea, and makes this beach clean even more worthwhile.

After an hour and a half’s stroll on the beach, and collecting a bucket of plastic, I headed back up for a chat and then headed home. I left them with a huge and growing pile of plastic on the car park floor to clean up.  I felt bad, but it didn´t last long. This was my time to really experience what is was to attend a beach clean, and I have to say, it´s a lovely and feel good afternoon on the beach with friends!

I´m grateful my friend is carrying the torch, otherwise Monte Clerigo would be a sorry sight, and a heap of plastic would have washed back into the ocean, where it could be ingested by marine animals…

(I only had my little camera and that ran out of battery while I was there, or I´d of taken more pictures of the posters etc. I was still in relaxed mode!)

Portugal introduces a plastic bag tax of 10 cents, a month ago.

When you think you can get a bottle of wine for €1.90, ten cents is actually quite a bit of money.  I didn´t do masses of research, I´ll be honest. I used the one shop I always use and that was pretty much the only one the whole time I was there. On talking to the lady in the shop, that one shop is using “muito menos” – a lot less plastic bags. It was noticeable, I saw many people with reusable bags and that was what go me wondering what was going on.

I´m reading the money, tax, is going to support nature conservation projects. Lets hope that is the case!  Of course people aren´t happy about it, one manufacturer is saying he´ll double his exports instead… We can only hope more countries join Portugal and they don´t find a market for them.

Produce bags are still being used, as are bread bags, bin bags and all the other types of plastic bags, but still, this is a fantastic start!

Good on Portugal for leading the way!

It was amazing to be back in that beautiful place. Now I have another adventure planned… but I shall be visiting Portugal again soon.


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