Confronting the plasticine: promise in a world wrapped in plastic

Elsevier, The Lancet Planetary Health, Volume 6, September 2022
Handley M.A.

As we poured water into a jug to be added to the ashes in the bucket, Maria (not her real name) asked in Spanish, “Why does making soap have anything to do with plastic?” Maria and another 50 or so Indigenous women from her village, in the highlands of southeastern Guatemala, had gathered ashes from their home fires and filled water jugs to bring to their community centre for a workshop with a local craftswoman on soap making; the first step of which is mixing ash with water and letting it sit. “That’s a long answer” I thought, struggling to think of how to express myself in Spanish. “Too much plastic everywhere, in the ground, air, water—chemicals in the plastic—bad for our health and for animals”I said in Spanish. “¡O, los químicos de plástico! ¡Sí, son malos!” she agreed, as we finished our task. Outside, women were talking together, and you could feel their excitement—they wanted to learn something useful that might also garner additional income. This highland village had selected making soap, among many options, that might rebuff the environmental pollution that surrounds them. This first workshop seemed a success.