The war on plastic waste is progressing in Negros

REDUCING WASTE “OUR WAY” One establishment, Timplada Restaurant in Barangay 1, has a segregated system that follows a group-led waste management program monitoring waste disposal and other environmental concerns in the whole island of Negros. —PHOTO BY MARIEJO S. RAMOS

(First of two parts)

BACOLOD CITY—Lilian Gordoncillo’s cafe is easy to spot, with its paintings of waves and whales on bright blue walls catching the eyes of passers-by.

His adopted home in Purok Nami-nami, Barangay Banago, is a high-density community like many other areas of this coastal capital of Negros Occidental Province.

Gordoncillo, 55, from Zamboanga del Norte, married a Negrense and settled here. She used to run a sari-sari shop, but now runs a small ‘kapehan’, or cafe, frequented by truckers at the port named after the barangay.

Having lived here long enough, she observed a major problem in the community: residents often dumped used plastic bags and other trash in the streets, leading to clogged sewers and flooding.

Waste audit

In 2018, more than 1,200 volunteers from the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI) – a group focused on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development across Negros Island – conducted 16 cleanups coastal areas in three cities and five municipalities.

The PRRCFI also carried out a waste audit, ie a study and classification of the garbage collected, of more than 3 metric tons of garbage.

These efforts were carried out as part of the foundation’s Sea Waste Education to Eradicate Plastic (Sweep) program.

The results of the audit showed that plastic packaging for processed foods, including thin plastics for ice cream and condiments, made up most of the litter collected during coastal cleanups.

In Banago, where Gordoncillo took part in the clean-up campaign, most of the litter collected – 33% – consisted of plastic bags commonly used to buy household items such as rice and vegetables from sari-sari shops .

“I thought, why isn’t waste management a big issue in our community? Although we have waste sorting policies, they do not address the source of the problem,” she said.

“Nothing Lost”

“Wala usik,” or “nothing wasted,” in the local language, Hiligaynon, is a colloquial phrase among communities who participated in PRRCFI’s Sweep program, and it refers to a community effort to reduce plastic waste in single use in Negroes.

The foundation has also been concerned about local and global trends in fish decline, amid increasing plastic pollution in the world’s oceans. According to the bleakest predictions of this trend, there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.

Environmentalists warn that current data already confirms this projection. In the Philippines, the mismanagement of plastic waste threatens the country’s ecology and economy, PRRCFI said, noting that 80% of plastic waste comes from plastics used in “fast-moving consumer goods” such as household items. toiletries, beverages and processed foods.

Additionally, at least 74,000 microplastic particles are ingested each year from the air people breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat, according to the global Break Free from Plastic movement.

This situation has prompted the campaign at home and abroad against the use of plastics to be more innovative in its approaches.

Problem solving

In Negros, the foundation’s Sweep program, in partnership with the US-led development agency, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), helped Gordoncillo and seven others set up community sari-sari shops “wala usik” in the cities of Bacolod and Sipalay and the municipalities of Cauayan, Hinoba-an and Sta. Catalina in Negros Occidental; and in the city of Bayawan and the municipalities of Basay and Siaton in Negros Oriental.

Sari-sari stores have contributed to the proliferation of single-use plastic packaging that accompanies many of their items. This led PRRCFI to solve the problem a bit: could these products be sold without their packaging?

Gordoncillo’s solution was to sell its products using dispensers and reusable containers. She said she was able to sell rice, coffee, condiments, detergent and other items with these tools.

She also collected used straws from the streets, disinfected them and turned them into mats or pillow fillings “kesa magkalat lang sa kalsada (instead of leaving them littering the streets),” she said. declared.

Initial enthusiasm

Princess Bala-an, project manager of the Wala Usik Economy component of the Sweep programme, said: “We have set up Sweep shops in communities to show that it is the people who should challenge the government on waste management and express their needs.

Traders said their neighbors were initially open to the ‘wala usik’ concept and were eager to try it out. their purchases, or they would go back to buying popular brands with single-use plastics.

These “wala usik” stores persisted as long as they could, until the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to close. The foundation estimated that the stores were able to prevent 45,000 pieces of plastic bag waste from entering the ocean.

“We couldn’t [keep these stores] obliged to the zero waste model, especially if they are economically in crisis. And we also need to revisit our messages about using plastic when, during the pandemic, people depended on it,” said PRRCFI Executive Director Dave Albao. Gordoncillo said:[W]had to close [the stores because] nobody buys us, because people don’t have the money to buy our products, given our environment here – many live hand to mouth.

But she said, “As soon as I am financially able again, I will relaunch my ‘wala usik’ store. Even if we won’t be able to completely eradicate plastic waste, at least, in our own way, we can reduce it.

Government support

But the small ‘wala usik’ initiative also eventually inspired restaurants, cafes and other establishments to embrace the idea.

“Relying on the experience of the sari-sari store, we continue[d] our work with [other] stores, some of them…carinderia (restaurants), while we [used what we learned] in a technical implementation framework or ‘wala usik’ guide for zero waste models,” Albao said.

But these efforts also need government support, said Aisel Moyani, herself a civil servant who leads the green business development sector of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s office in Negros Occidental.

“With the Green Business Development Framework, we [guide the businesses on] how to limit their carbon emissions, their carbon footprint, and then reduce environmental risks. We start with small steps,” she said.

Yet while this approach helps change “cultural behaviors,” she also noted that “we still have problems [to resolve] with solid waste management[.] It pays to see the big picture first: where did we come from and where did we come from? [get] in?” INQ

Reporting for this article was supported by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.

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Bryce K. Locke