Green Minded Peeps: Zero Waste Advocates

For lunch, I would normally bring with me a container as I buy food from Jollijeep, a kind of a food cart, in Makati. If I see someone doing the same, I can’t help but smile, stopping myself from giving the person a hug. The vendors appreciate this effort and as a reward, I sometimes get a free banana! Yey!

Of course I also refuse the paper bag and use my own tote bag. Disposables made from paper is considered a lesser evil because it is compostable, but it’s still evil as it’s made from dead trees (gasp)! And its production entails the use of a lot of water. Reusables is still the best option.

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My reusable starter kit.

I bought coffee from 7-11 and used my own cup instead of paper cup. The cashier wished more people would do the same. Well, the good news is, awareness about the issue of single-use plastic and pollution is growing, together with individuals and organizations promoting the zero waste movement.

Robin Lewis of Japan co-founded MyMizu, a water refill app that points you to places where you can refill your bottle for free. So cool! Good-bye bottled water. Those evil bottled water companies are shaking, haha!

Still in Japan, Akira Sakano, heads the Zero Waste Academy in Kamikatsu where garbage is segregated into 45 categories!

Low Impact Filipina, Angel Mata, a teacher raises awareness about the low purchase, low waste, and low impact lifestyle through her blog.

Zero waste shops are popping up like the Wala Usik: Tiangge + Kapehan in Bacolod offering local, natural, or package free options.

We do have to make corporations accountable for the waste problem caused by their plastic packaging but our individual actions contribute to the solution, too. Consumer pressure can drive business directions. And our individual choices can mean one less trash to deal with.

Humans of the World: Akira from Japan

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.

Photo Credit: Kel Almazan

Zero Waste January: The Japanese Way

Japanese World Cup fans pick up trash after the game.

A Japanese guy voluntarily cleans up an overpass in Baguio.

Kamikatsu, a zero-waste town in Japan, segregates their waste into 45 types in 13 categories.

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!

Recently, devotees of a religious event left 15 trash of garbage not in garbage bins or garbage bags but scattered everywhere!

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.

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Kamikatsu, a zero-waste town in Japan (Photo from Business Insider).

War on Plastic

Summer is almost over but in a country where we have really nice beaches, it might as well be summer all year round. But our oceans are now choking in plastic. Heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? It’s an accumulation of ocean plastic and garbage, which to date, is three times the size of France, and it’s getting bigger!

Why don’t we just clean it up? Not as easy as it sounds. There’s the issue of cost, distance, and effects of photodegradation (sunlight reducing plastic to smaller bits making them even more difficult to clean up).

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.

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Halo-halo in the mountains with a re-usable container.
 

No Straw! No Straw!

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.

January is the Zero Waste Month in the Philippines and I wish we could channel even a little of Lauren Singer’s effort in striving for a zero waste lifestyle. Or maybe we should start segregating our wastes into 34 categories like the town of Kamikatsu in Japan. But really, segregating wastes into biodegradable and non-biodegradable could already make a difference.  Garbage dumped in landfills can significantly be reduced if the biodegradables are composted.

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.

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Photo by Jason Quema

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.”