Manila, Philippines: The home is a sanctuary. People discard trash from their residences that no longer fit in with its ‘flow’. The best case scenario is when people are responsible enough to segregate their junk in the correct way. The reality is though, that some recyclables end up in the non-recycling bin headed for landfills and worst case scenario dumped some place else polluting the natural environment.
Getting rid of your stuff makes things go away for you, but not for the planet. We can’t Marie Kondo our way out of the world’s stuff.
The waste problem, and particularly the plastic pollution problem, is made more complex in a developing country like the Philippines.
Philippines’ plastic pollution epidemic
The United Nations called this problem ’one of the great environmental challenges of all time’. Plastic pollution has been an ongoing problem but this epidemic now comes with various solid and even lucrative solutions. Yet the problem persists. Why? Humans, that’s why. We actually consume about 300 million tons of plastic every year. When not properly disposed, they don’t just end up in a landfill. More than eight million tons of plastic gets dumped in our ocean and circle the earth about four times in a year.
The Philippines is hit with an average of 20 typhoons a year. Flood is inevitable; the problem is made worse because garbage dumping in the river is a habit practiced by many Filipinos. The country is one of the world’s top three worst offenders of plastic pollution. You can actually see a thick layer of garbage floating in the waterways as if it were some island.
Back in the 90s, a series of infomercials played on Filipino television. A slogan from one infomercial was ‘Basurang tinapon mo, babalik sayo’ which translates to, The garbage you dump goes back to you. That saying had been etched into my young mind along with the video of people living in the slums unloading piles of trash in the river and finally, a video of floods hitting the Philippines. What comes with the flood that enters millions of homes? The trash they dumped in the rivers. The infomercial and its slogan was a success, educating many Filipinos. As a result, rates of garbage dumping declined. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to end it. Garbage dumping is still common practice, particularly among those living along the river slums.
Why plastic is a problem
Some plastics that exist today have been around since before I was born as they just don’t break down easily. When they do, they break up into smaller pieces resulting in microplastics. These bits of plastics are found along shorelines and in our oceans.
The plastic is also consumed by animals and marine life; a problem since plastics are also made up of the problematic chemical BPA or Bisphenol A and there’s every chance it’s making its way into human bodies through the consumption of plastic-fed seafood. In fact, almost 92 percent of Americans are tested BPA-positive. The implications of high BPA in the human body can result in health problems such as endocrine disorders like male and female infertility and cancer. Seems that 90s slogan, ‘the garbage you dump goes back to you’ has reached a whole new meaning.
The introduction of plastic bans
Marikina City is known to be the cleanest city in the country. But it wasn’t always that way.
The city is situated beside higher areas so when rainy season begins, flooding in Marikina is expected. This prompted the city’s officials to implement a strict waste management system. Garbage collectors won’t pick up your garbage when not properly segregated; residents can expect to be fined if they don’t separate non-biodegradable and biodegradable items. There’s also major drainage improvement projects currently underway.
However, the nation-wide law against the use of single-use plastic such as plastic bags is still pending which is why rates of use is high in the Philippines. The good news is, more and more towns and stores in the country are banning plastic and introducing plastic-free options. Since more people are becoming aware of plastic pollution, more people are embracing a sustainable lifestyle.
A popular solution to the plastic problem is turning waste-filled plastic bottles into building blocks or ‘eco bricks’. These bricks are filled with dry, non-biodegradable substances such as plastic wrappers and are then used to build schools, parks and even houses
Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide have resorted to eco-bricks, but Filipinos continue to be at the forefront of the eco-brick movement, practiced by zero waste advocates such as Angel Mata aka Zero Waste Filipina and Phoebe Blas of Mean Living.
So how do you make an ‘eco brick’ exactly? All one needs to do is stuff any of small bits of single-use plastic bits in a plastic bottle. Save them up and drop them off to an eco brick organisation that are accepting donations. People can also use those bottles to build things. They can be used in the wall of a house. Perhaps a fence. A stool for, for example, can be created with just 12 eco bricks!
Taking responsibility for plastic usage is one way to be a more responsible earth citizen. In the Philippines, there’s a long way to go yet since poor waste management services and poverty remain major barriers to recycling and environmental initiatives, but we won’t stop pushing for a cleaner, greener environment.
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