Plastic on the Beach (DEMO PAGE)

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It could be paradise. On the Honduran island of Roatan in the Caribbean, sandy beaches lined with palm trees stretch as far as the eye can see.

But the view is ruined by mounds of trash: Plastic bags and single-use water bottles, old clothes, unloved toys and even plastic chairs. 

Marine biologist Laura Leiva of the Alfred Wegener Institute grew up here in Honduras and has witnessed the rising tide of plastic pollution first-hand. 

"The last 10  years have seen more plastic [wash up] on the shores here," she told DW. "The only clean places are the tourist resorts because people actively clean them," she says. "Around them, [the beaches are] full of trash. It's so sad."

The trash originates from Roatan itself, neighboring islands and the Central American mainland.

The highly polluted Motagua River, which forms part of Honduras' border with Guatemala, serves as a dumpsite for many communities. Every time it rains, torrents of trash are washed from the river into the ocean.

And from there, it can embark on quite a journey. In October, a British photographer discovered a carpet of plastic garbage floating in the Caribbean.

Trash covers a beach in Honduras

A paradise lost: Huge amounts of trash wash up on the island of Roatan in Honduras

Bringing back paradise 

But there is still a tropical idyll somewhere beneath this mountain of waste. And a few hundred people have come together to uncover it.

Cleanups of some of Roatan's most beautiful beaches were organized by Israeli firm SodaStream, as part of a new campaign that ultimately hypes its own products: sodamakers and multiuse plastic bottles.

A cynical person might dismiss the campaign as "greenwashing." But Honduran NGOs have used it as an opportunity to raise awareness of the trash problem among local communities and to get local schools involved.

Read more: Ending plastic waste with big promises?

Mishelle Mejia, a Honduran-born environmental and sustainability consultant based in Israel, has organized a cleanup week on Roatan, and its neighboring islands Utila and Guanaja.

She announces proudly that "2,000 people have signed up for it."

Adults and schoolchildren alike head off with large garbage bags, picking up every scrap of trash they can find until they're full to the brim. 

But it's a sisyphean task — the waves will soon deliver more trash to the shore and the results of the volunteers' hard work will all but disappear.

Two female volunteers carry a bag filled with trash as they work to clean up the beach on the island of Roatan in Honduras

Volunteers aren't afraid of some heavy lifting as they get to work cleaning up the beach on Roatan

Hidden threat

The reality is, organized cleanups only remove a very small proportion of the trash that's out there.

Researchers estimate that approximately 5 to 13 million tons of plastic end up in the oceans every year. Most of it eventually sinks to the ocean floor and never makes it onto the beaches.

A study into similar cleanups in Cyprus revealed they have a limited effect — in particular, people often miss things like small plastics and cigarette butts.

Still, some experts say it's better than doing nothing.

Picking up plastic will still prevent those particular pieces "from entangling animals and ending up in the bellies of seabirds," Jan Andries van Franeker, an ecologist at Wageningen University and Research, told DW. 

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Every year, tens of thousands of people worldwide volunteer for the Sisyphean chore of picking up trash from beaches

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