Photo by Arturo Dedace III
A decade ago, I graduated from college and got my first tattoo. “Do I dare disturb the universe?” was a line borrowed from T.S. Eliot. I was a student of literature and I looked at life as if I was studying a poem.
After five years in different desk jobs, life lost its similarity to poetry, but I was not ready to admit defeat to disillusionment. I spent the next five years uprooting myself from the city, learning new ways to just be myself. I learned how to surf, how to camp out, and tie my own hammock. I learned that all I needed to grow was to find a more suitable environment.
I moved to La Union in 2014 to surf more but I stayed to do something I never expected to do. It wasn’t a grand realization but a slow gleaning of meaning- like reading the last few lines of a poem. The longer I stayed in La Union, the harder it became to ignore the sight of trash in the lineup while we surfed. I started picking up trash on the shore as my partner and I walked our dogs. Later on, I started using my own reusable straw and refusing plastic bags at the grocery. I had no desire of being called an environmentalist, but I learned that it was the small decisions that made up a calling.
As more and more people learned of La Union’s charm, an opportunity to start a business arose. My business partners were from the specialty coffee industry and they had secured a good location by the beach. I saw the coffee shop opportunity as a platform to spread awareness about plastic consumption. We respected La Union so we didn’t want to add to the waste management problem. Instead, we found ways to cut down our waste.
In 2018, Clean Beach became the first coffee shop in San Juan to offer reusable bamboo straws. To further minimize our contribution to coastal waste, we also didn’t have to-go cups. Instead, we rewarded those who brought their own tumblers with a discounted beverage. If they didn’t have their own tumbler, we lent them one for a small deposit. We also had beach baskets that guests could borrow to collect litter across the coastline; when they came back, we would give them iced tea. Clean Beach was about learning better habits. We wanted to make people feel good when they do good. Although our small cleanup efforts are not a complete solution, we know that these can lead to bigger things that involve more people and projects.
It is through this lens that we aim to teach individuals to be kinder to the places they’ve come to enjoy. When you start caring for your quality of life, you’ll want to protect what gives your life meaning. To me, it meant protecting the beach. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a clean beach?
My universe had to be disturbed before I ever dreamed of changing it.