Meet Akira. A wife, a mom, and a zero waste warrior.
Akira heads the Zero Waste Academy, an organization promoting the zero waste movement in Kamikatsu. In this small town in Japan, wastes are segregated into 45 categories achieving a recycling rate of 81%.
During the World Economic Forum, she was one of the six young people selected to co-chair the conference in Davos.
To further promote the idea of circular economy, she created a zero waste card game which is meant to educate both children and adults.
An epitome of a strong, independent woman, Akira is driven by the mission to do something now for our generation’s sake and that of her daughter’s otherwise there won’t be any future to speak of.
Busy as she normally is, Akira admits it’s a challenge to juggle between work and family but she tries to stop working after 6PM and devote the time to her husband and child.
Marie Kondo’s “Spark Joy” is inspiring people to tidy up.
I do admire how the Japanese do things. Especially on how they deal with garbage. At an early age, kids learn how to clean their own classrooms that they grow up expecting no one to clean up after themselves.
In the Philippines, it’s a different story. People litter because they think it’s someone else’s responsibility to dispose their garbage. There are laws against littering and laws mandating us even to segregate but who cares about these laws. We blatantly litter because simply, we can get away with it.
In a so-called poor country, disposing garbage properly should be the least of our worries since day to day survival is what we’re focused on. Yet what’s exasperating is educated Filipinos, you wouldn’t expect, also litter!
The same thing happens after people spend time in public parks, the beach, or the mountain. We leave the garbage behind.
How can this mindset and behavior change? There’s constant reminder, and education, and campaigns on proper waste management. Maybe we should step it up and charge people fees for garbage they produce. And I mean, not just the measly amount but the real cost of disposing this garbage. Because in reality, the government is spending a lot just from hauling all these junk.
Out of sight, out of mind. But I do hope the Japanese way could rub off on us some way, somehow.
Plastic is deemed evil for a reason (i.e. toxicity, pollution, etc.) but its usefulness in terms of food safety and food preservation is undeniable. A Quartz article explains that “Plastic is the symptom. Our centralized food system is the disease.” And a systemic issue will take time to be resolved.
One thing we can already do, however, is to start getting rid of unnecessary plastic. The good thing is more and more people are becoming aware of this. A lot of efforts are now being done to tackle the challenge.
There’s the ban of single-use plastic in some cities and municipalities, even among corporations. People are refusing straws and are opting for better alternatives – paper straws, bamboo straws, metal straws, and glass straws. There’s even a collapsible and seaweed-based edible straw. Speaking of edible, an alternative plastic bag made from cassava can be eaten or is compostable (as opposed to the oxo-degradable bags which just break down into micro plastics).
A growing group of individuals are starting to adopt a zero-waste lifestyle bringing re-usable bags, and jars, and containers when they go shopping; and re-filling their re-usable water drinking bottles instead of buying bottled water.
We have all these better options and it’s such a simple decision to make. It’s a matter of saying yes to the simple solution with big impact and letting go of the attraction of convenience.
It’s silly but I actually dreamt about this. I requested that my drink be served without a straw. My drink arrived with a freakin’ plastic straw! I wake up and the same thing happens in my waking world. Geez, just remove the straw then, what’s the big deal? Well, we’re unnecessarily creating waste which could have been avoided at the very beginning. It’s recycled anyway? Only 10% of plastic produced globally is recyled. Most of it is trashed and ends up in the ocean forming the Great Pacific garbage patch, a collection of marine debris mostly plastic. We create biodegradable plastics but they don’t readily decompose and some become tiny bits also known as microplastics.
We used to have just one garbage bin in the office. I felt bad whenever I see the garbage all mixed up. After work, when I leave the building, I see these piles of garbage bags and these men sorting through the waste, probably looking for recyclables they could salvage and sell. Again, segregating wastes into biodegradable and non-biodegradable would make life easier for them. So that’s what I proposed and I’m glad people in the office obliged. I didn’t want to impose too much.
Waste segregation is very basic but you would be surprised how it can get complicated. We don’t exactly have a proper system for waste management. We have the policy in place but lack the political will to fully implement it. And there are much more important things to think about. Heck, environmental issues should be prioritized and addressed but that’s just me.
In a developing country like the Philippines, where poverty is still pretty much part of life, how can you ask people to avoid single use sachet contributing to plastic pollution when that’s what they can afford. Same with patronizing organic food or sustainable and environment-friendly products, which are relatively more expensive. My friends and I were talking about this one time, relating it to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If people can barely satisfy their basic needs, you can’t expect them to care for the plight of the environment. On the other hand, why do smart, caring people ignore environmental issues? Why can’t those who can take action?
At the beginning of this year, I wrote “Note to Self” to remind myself to breathe and let go. But as an environmentalist, sometimes I can’t help feeling frustrated. The more you know, the more you care, the more you suffer. You’re labeled anti-development. Or they think you’re just exaggerating or over reacting. Add to that the fact that environmental defenders are being killed! Why did I decide to be an environmentalist, haha!
Because as Helen Keller puts it, “I am only one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” I guess, that’s one thing I can do. Raise awareness through my writing, through the environmental initiatives I participate in, through my lifestyle.
It’s funny how my friends remark, “Ryan will get angry” when I see them using single-use plastic. At least they’re more aware, I suppose. And maybe one of these days, they would also say, “No straw, please.”