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Why Not a Plastic-free Christmas?

By Alexa H. BacayDecember 24, 2017

A zero-waste lifestyle: Your ultimate gift to Mother Earth

ONCE THE MALLS start playing Jose Mari Chan’s iconic Christmas anthem, Christmas in Our Hearts, we all know that the most wonderful time of the year has started. Filipinos love Christmas so much that we are the only nation in the world that starts the countdown to the festive season as soon as the “-ber” months start.

Specialty stores and other businesses capitalize on this with attractive, affordable, but mostly useless stuff to sell to consumers who are caught up in the frenzy of gift giving. After all, it’s Christmas.

 

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But amidst all the celebration, there’s one side effect the Christmas blues bring that shouldn’t be ignored: The tons of waste both plastic and paper the holiday leaves once the festivities die down.

In the UK, it was reported that the Christmas rush has left over six million Christmas trees to be burnt right after the holidays, and over 125,000 tons of packaging (both plastic and paper), are thrown out every year for the last 10 years.

In the Philippines, according to the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the country produced 40,087.46 tons of daily waste per day, from 37,427.46 tons in 2012. Metro Manila alone generates 25 percent of all of the country’s daily trash, but according to The Plastic Project environmental officer Fiona Faulkner, while 15 percent of local government units (LGUs) have a materials recovery facility (MRF), majority of the waste goes to landfills that may affect our ocean, ground water or air.

“I think while the DENR has made strides over recent years, some basic concerns such as solid waste management could be better addressed. Republic Act 9003, an act on ecological waste management, is sorely overlooked as most households do not even segregate their household waste. The Act calls for each LGU to be responsible for an MRF that facilitates more efficient recycling. Only 15 percent of LGUs have an MRF and only 30 percent of Filipinos have access to a sanitary landfill that is legally registered and approved by the DENR,” said Faulkner. “The problems of climate change are multi-faceted and that is why it is difficult to address one concern; I believe better waste management that addresses the consumption patterns of the average Filipino is a good place to start.”

The Plastic Solution, an environmental conservation organization, stands for the solution to the plastic crisis. Their goal is to eliminate the presence of non-biodegradable waste from the environment through their project called “ecobricking”. These are average sized PET bottles with tightly stuffed accumulated non-biodegradable waste. The group reaches out to schools and corporations to “donate” their ecobricks, which can be used for building projects such as perimeter fencing and bathroom stalls in The Circle Hostel branches, a seedling nursery in an Aeta community in Zambales. The ecobricks can also be used as planter boxes and benches in public schools like the Taysan Elementary School and the Nangka Elementary School.

Partnering with institutions such as UP, Haribon, Ateneo AESS, and Z-Hostel in Makati, where ecobricks can be dropped off, the main goal of The Plastic Solution is to eliminate plastic and other non-biodegradable waste from the environment.

“While our main advocacy is ecobricking, we’d like to encourage and also try to provide means for people to live a “zero-waste” lifestyle or a lifestyle with less environmental and ecological impact,” said Faulker.

“A very simple policy is ‘anti-plastic’. Muntinlupa and Makati have effectively banned the use of plastic bags in their shops and establishments have found their ways around it. The next step is banning plastic straws and so on and so forth. I think government should highly consider legislation against the discriminate use of plastic effectively reducing the need and therefore the supply of it. Businesses should adapt,” she added.

Faulkner shares that we have been led to believe for so long that our material possessions define us, when in reality humans are more than capable of making more out of less.

“Our consumer patterns are greatly affecting the environment; more mining, more logging, more emissions (and if the legal routes prove to be too difficult or time-consuming then we’ll resort to illegal activities to get more out of the environment). I’ve noticed as well that the extravagance of the holidays don’t just affect the environment but affect us socially,” she revealed. “There are more cars on the road, more instances of road rage and disregard for human life, and an imbalance in worklife — more overtime hours to make more money to buy more presents that will otherwise be more waste.”

She suggests that instead of getting the typical cosmetic/ aesthetic-type gifts, opt for something that adds value and helps them decrease their waste impact on the world. There are presents that are now available locally which helps to live a more sustainable life. Metal straws and a reusable tote bag can help lessen the use of plastic, and a metal tumbler can help reduce the need to buy a plastic bottle of water.

“There are many things to choose from, it just takes getting out of your comfort zone and automatic train of thought that ‘presents = expensive and shiny’,” Faulkner explained.

Following her own advise, Faulkner shares that she has opted out of joining several ‘Secret Santas’ because it often requires exchange of gifts that does not include perishable items. She has decided to only buy presents that are consumable or will be utilized daily and will not be stored to collect dust in the house.

“I think it starts with education to be environmentally conscious, I think people need to be stopped in their tracks and the impact of their lifestyles need to be revealed to them. While we can’t all suddenly become environmental conservationists, we can certainly break-free from some habits and decrease our impact on the world through one way or another,” she shared.

The Plastic Solution has a Facebook and Instagram account (@theplasticsolution) that are regularly monitored. They can also be reached via email: theplasticsolution@gmail.com.