by Cristina Morabe (Class 2023)
The pollution problem of the world has escalated to an alarming level. In recent years, studies and viral news articles have declared the Philippines as one of the largest producers of plastic waste in the world. At third place, our country is surpassed only by Indonesia, and ultimately by China.1 One of the places that can attest to this — with tangible proof — is the city of Manila, a place that many universities, hospitals, and local residents call home. The capital of our beloved Philippines, and often the seat of many Filipinos’ hopes and dreams, Manila is one of the most densely populated cities in the world2, which means more trash, more difficult waste management, and more people that get affected by the devastating effects of plastic pollution. Last year, at the height of the floods brought about by the typhoon season, locals found themselves in a river of trash being spewed out by Manila Bay. Photos of Roxas Boulevard ridden with plastic bags that came directly from the sea were shared online by thousands, and the heartbreaking reality was apparent for every netizen to see: our irresponsible actions are destroying our country, and our trash is killing the planet. Although many are optimistic for change under new governance this year, the crisis of pollution does not just degrade overnight, no pun intended.
So what are we to do? The rise of the #ZeroWaste movement over the past few years proposes that there is a solution, but one that places the burden of cleaning up the planet on the shoulders of consumers. In reality, the issue of plastic pollution is multi-faceted, and is also tightly linked to the massive amounts of carbon emissions that large corporations produce when mass-producing consumable goods, most of which are disposable. However, even while knowing that large corporations are the real culprits, the projected consequences of inaction has shaken the earth’s inhabitants (or some of them, at least) into action, and the Zero Waste or, more realistically, “low-impact” movement has made progress in raising awareness, and finding alternatives to the destructive habits that have become the byproducts of today’s fast-paced realm. There is a catch, though: in spreading the message far and wide, the movement has inadvertently been turned into a brand, thus making the challenge to live more sustainably even harder, as it now comes with a hefty pricetag. While some of these companies make good on their promises of sustainability, many are looking to ride on the trend and associate the lifestyle with a certain aesthetic. Because of this, it is easy to see this movement as unrealistic, especially as a student, living alone or in a dormitory or condominium in Manila — finances are tight, and budgets need to prioritize necessities. But the truth is, the Low-impact movement can be done, even as a student, and the things that are essential to lessening your waste are probably already in your possession. Read: you don’t really need that metal straw. So, without further ado, here are 8 simple steps to be a more conscious Manileño:
- Start bringing reusable food containers and utensils to school.
Cooking is hard — even the culinary art of boiling an egg or two — and not everyone has the benefit of having a freezer stocked with home-cooked food (thank your parents, folks). But this doesn’t mean that every meal needs to be had in disposable containers and plastic cutlery. Chances are, you already have a sturdy lunch box* sitting at home, and bringing an empty baunan not only lets you cut down on trash, you also get to cut on costs. Some of our lunchtime favorites around the UP Manila and LM Guerrero street area give a small discount if you choose to forego the takeout container and plastic bag.
*Bamboo and metal aesthetic = expensive, and definitely optional.
2. Always have a reusable jug or tumbler on hand.
Staying hydrated doesn’t have to cost so much money and plastic. Although drinking fountains are scarce in Manila, a lot of establishments can easily provide you with their house water. You can even use your own tumbler for other drinks like coffee, milktea, or smoothies, and a few cafes offer discounts for these as well.
3. Make better use of your hands.
When you make purchases, consider whether you really need them in a plastic bag, or if it’s just something you’re used to. You probably always have your school bag on you, which can more often than not fit random purchases throughout the day. You can also try carrying around your own reusable shopping bag; it’s likely that you already have an ecobag stashed away at home anyway. If not, your hands will do perfectly fine for small hauls.
4. Make your own coffee.
One bag of ground coffee beans from the grocery will see you through an entire month of all-nighters for almost the same price as one drink in your favorite coffee shop. A coffee press, although arguably a good investment, is not essential in brewing your own coffee, as seen in this tutorial on how to easily make your own cold brew fix.
An important bonus, of course, is that you can have your brewed coffee in your favorite mug, no disposables needed.
5. Be more conscious of take-out.
You’re in Manila, you have lots of studying to do, and you need something quick. Understandable, and very relatable. But you can still minimize your waste while maximizing your time. Though the ideal solution would be to ask them to use your own reusable container, getting take-out is often a spontaneous decision and you won’t always have your reusables on hand. Additionally, some establishments don’t allow this for food safety reasons. So instead, before leaving the counter, check your take-out bag to see if there’s anything you don’t really need (straws, plastic utensils, and those tiny sachets of condiments that just accumulate in a drawer and go to waste), and return these to the servers. Or, you can take a more proactive route and tell the cashier right as you order your food that you will not be needing disposables.
6. Don’t over-buy or over-produce food.
Food waste is not just physical waste, it’s also financial waste. This involves a bit of planning ahead, and portioning your food just right in order to maximize the amount that you consume. All in all, this saves time and resources, and can even encourage healthier eating habits.
7. Be familiar with your building’s protocol for waste disposal.
Most condominiums have separate bins or collection methods for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. You can also ask your building administrators how recyclables are disposed of, so you can ensure that you aren’t just throwing good recyclables away.
8. Don’t rush the process, and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Making the switch requires a bit of adjustment, and these are habits that are built over time. However, the payoff is worth it, and you may just find yourself noticing other ways to lessen your waste. That being said, the discussion definitely does not end here.
Engage others and keep the conversation going.
You can jumpstart change in the way we think about our environment by talking about it, asking questions, and sharing ideas. There is power in numbers — even more so when those numbers are heard. Talk to establishments and your favorite brands and keep them accountable. Keep yourself and your community accountable, too. But remember that the point is not to be perfect and to stop all human activity to eliminate 100% of waste. It is also not to be unforgiving when we or others make mistakes. We are all continuously growing, learning, and doing our best to make a change. The idea is to be more conscious of our environmental impact, and try to do what we can to help, together.