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Why This Caribbean Island Has Streets Paved In Plastic

The Honduran island of Utila, in the Caribbean Sea, is using the copious amounts of trash that wash ashore to build roads.

Kayaking in Utila, Honduras
Kayaking in Utila, Honduras
Monica Pelliccia

UTILA — With its picture perfect turquoise waters, the Caribbean island of Utila, part of an offshore archipelago called the Bay Islands, is a tropical paradise. But its beautiful beaches can be strewn with trash during the fall rainy season, when litter and other refuse is carried by the tides.

Images taken by photographer Caroline Power of enormous masses of floating plastic garbage off the nearby island of Roatan generated international headlines in 2017. Sea turtles have problems nesting. Residents see dolphins playing with bags that look like jellyfish. And plastics threaten the health of the nearby Mesoamerican Reef, the world's second largest coral reef system and one of the most biodiverse coral areas on the planet.

Utila Mayor Troy Bodden isn't surprised. "Thirteen municipalities and four hospitals throw all the garbage in the Motagua River that merges with the Atlantic Ocean," he says, referring to the 482-kilometer-long Guatemala river that forms the border between the two nations in its final stretch before entering into the sea.

More than 5 tons of plastic were collected for recycling, both from beach cleanups and from homes, hotels and restaurants.

There are no easy solutions for a tiny island like Utila, a top diving tourism destination. That's why it is now trying to get creative — by not only clearing the waste, but putting some of it to good use. At the end of 2017, the town finished building its first road made partly of plastic. Six months later it is now concluding a second.

A laborer takes ground recycled plastic to prepare concrete. Calle Lozano is the second street of Utila made with plastic — Photo: Monica Pelliccia/News Deeply

A global trend

A sea lover and ship captain who says he descends from a famed pirate, Bodden was inspired when visiting tourists showed him a video of roads paved with plastic in Canada. Indeed, plastic is increasingly being used as a road construction material around the world. The Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, has already laid 1,000 kilometers of road using 5,000 metric tons of plastic, and plans to increase those numbers by 10 times in coming years.

Utila, at only 11 kilometers long, can't put down that much road. But it can save money by reusing every small amount of plastic it can.

"Also, we would like to build benches. And why not start to export concrete blocks made of plastic?"

Millions of plastic bottles — equaling almost the weight of one whale shark, the biggest fish in the ocean and one of the inhabitants of Utila's waters — arrived on the island by boat last year, according to Bodden. Rosalia Argueta, environment coordinator of the municipality of Utila, says more than 5 tons of plastic were collected for recycling, both from beach cleanups and from homes, hotels and restaurants.

Still, sustainably recycling all of this plastic requires shipping to a mainland recycling plant, located more than three hours by car from the closest port.

"Roads paved with recycled plastic could be a sustainable solution that permits us to save the cost to separate, clean, compact and send the bales to the mainland," says Bodden. He began by acquiring funding from the Free Tourist Zone of Bay Islands, a government institution, to spend $5,000 to acquire a machine to grind up the plastic.

Laboratory tested

Intersecting the corner of Main Street, lined with tourist bars and dive centers, Calle Holland is now paved with a mix of cement, sand, gravel and 28% ground and melted recycled plastic. The formula was first tested at a laboratory in Honduras to check its durability under weight and weather. The project used 80,000 plastic bottles to pave the 91-meter-long strip.

A second road, Acceso a Calle Lozano, is now also being paved. Every Tuesday and Thursday, plastic is collected from the beaches and the recycling center. It's ground into pellets and delivered in huge black bags to the road construction site.

The construction of Calle Lorenzo, made with 28% recycled plastic — Photo: Monica Pelliccia/News Deeply

Eymi Yolanda Reyes Galeas, 28, is the engineer supervising construction. "Today, we are using 600 pounds of plastic (272 kilograms) to make the concrete," she says. "We reduce the quantity of plastic wastes in the island, and we use it for a common good." As she urges workers to wet the road, a few tourists walking by start to video the work after they learn about the project.

Bodden has plans to scale up the work. Building more road infrastructure, he says, is a priority for the largely undeveloped island. "Our next step will be to pave all the new streets with this formula," he says. "Also, we would like to build benches. And why not start to export concrete blocks made of plastic?"

He leaves his office on an electric tuk-tuk to head to his house, located just at the corner of Calle Holland. It's a name that reminds him that there are many parts of the world, including the Netherlands, where plastic is having a second life in urban construction. "My aim is to make a dent in the plastic pollution of our beautiful archipelago," he says.

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Art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 你好*

Welcome to Tuesday, where violence erupts after Sudan's military coup, Australia finally gets onboard with climate change goals, and Harrison Ford stars in Raiders of the Lost Credit Card. From Bogota, we also see what the capture of drug kingpin Otoniel means for Colombia, a country long stained by cocaine trafficking.

[*Nĭhǎo - Mandarin Chinese]

💡  SPOTLIGHT

Saving the planet is really a question of dopamine

The elite of the ecologically minded are set to descend on Glasgow next week for the Cop 26 conference on climate change. But beyond debating policy prescriptions, French daily Les Echos explores the role our own brains have on making the right choices for the planet:

Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the "pleasure hormone."

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Stefano Lupieri / Les Echos

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Sudan in chaos following military coup: After Sudan's military seized power from the transitional government, defiant anti-coup protesters have returned to the streets of the capital city Khartoum, for a second consecutive day. At least seven people have been killed and 140 injured. Coup leader General Al-Burhan has announced a state of emergency across the country, while the military cut off access to the internet and closed roads, bridges, and Khartoum's airport. Washington condemned the coup and suspended aid, and the U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Sudan behind closed doors later today.

• Egypt lifts state of emergency in force since 2017: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, announced the end of a four-year-old state of emergency, undoing powers that had given the government sweeping authority to quash protests, make arrests, search people's homes without warrants, and control everyday life in the most populous Arab country.

• Platforms take down Bolsonaro video linking vaccine and AIDS: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have removed an anti-vaccine video from their respective platforms posted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Beyond blocking the video, in which Bolsonaro falsely linked the COVID-19 vaccine with developing AIDS, YouTube went further and suspended the far-right leader for a week.

• COVID update: The U.S. will launch a new travel system on November 8, imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national travellers and lifting severe travel restrictions over China, India and much of Europe. Meanwhile, authorities in northern China are reimposing lockdown, and other emergency measures as COVID-19 infections spread to 11 provinces.

• Australia pledges net zero emissions by 2050: As one of the world's largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita and a major exporter of fossil fuels such as coal, Australia has finally committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050. This is a target already adopted by most nations heading to next week's COP26 international climate conference, but that Australia had so far refused to pledge.

• Japanese princess loses royal status over wedding: Japan's Princess Mako married her boyfriend Kei Komuro, giving up her royal status. Under Japanese law, female imperial family members lose their status upon marriage to a "commoner" although male members do not.

Raiders of the Lost Credit Card: A tourist returned the credit card of American actor Harrison Ford, who had lost it in Sicily while shooting scenes for the latest Indiana Jones movie.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Out of control," titles German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, reporting on the release of a series of articles by a consortium of 17 U.S. news outlets, called the "Facebook Papers," that reinforce whistleblower Frances Haugen's claims that the social media giant is prioritizing profits over the well being of its users and society.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$1.01 trillion

After striking a deal to sell 100,000 electric vehicles to car rental firm Hertz, Elon Musk's Tesla has joined Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google's Alphabet in the club of companies that have reached a $1 trillion valuation.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

What the capture of a drug kingpin means for Colombia

While the capture of Otoniel, Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker, made global headlines, Bogotá daily El Espectador writes about the significance of the news for a country that has battled narcotrafficking for decades.

👮 The arrest of the Colombian mobster Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, a.k.a. "Otoniel," is a victory for Colombian intelligence, law-and-order forces and the broader fight against crime. Details of the eight-year-long pursuit of the head of the Gulf Clan, of the tireless and meticulous work, testify to the capabilities that the police and army have managed to develop in the fight against the narco-trafficking that has long been a stain on Colombia.

🇨🇴🇲🇽 Otoniel is responsible for a criminal organization with more than 3,800 members and influence on 12 departments and 128 districts in Colombia (though data from the Bogotá-based Peace and Reconciliation Foundation counts 211 districts). The Gulf Clan sends half the drugs going out of Colombia, and is the main exporter to Mexico. Its ties to the Mexican cartel chief Joaquín "el Chapo" Guzmán are well-documented — and Otoniel had aspired to fill the power vacuum left by Guzmán's capture.

⚖️ Some have observed that the ensuing power vacuum will engender more violence, which is true. But we are, in any case, far from eliminating drug trafficking in Colombia or cutting its tentacles across public life. That shows the limitations of the hard-line response to drugs, when we have seen it is not enough. Still, it is essential in any fight against crime for the state to show its operational capabilities. The message is clear: not even drug overlords are above the law in Colombia.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I love Mako. I would like to spend my one life with the person I love."

— Kei Komuro said during a news conference after his wedding with Japan's Princess Mako, the niece of the current emperor and the sister of the likely future sovereign. The princess lost her royal status as a result of her marriage with Komuro, a "commoner."

📸  PHOTO DU JOUR

An art installation "Greetings From Giza" by French artist and photographer JR faces the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, as part of the 2021 exhibition "'Forever Is Now," the first international art exhibition to take place there — Photo: Balkis Press/Abaca/ZUMA

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Send all commoner and royal well wishes to Mako and Kei — and let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com

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