When used in tandem, the three R’s work in harmony, allowing for the amount of waste humans produce to significantly drop. Preservation of the environment is one of the most important issues facing humankind today. However, many have adopted listening to just one of them, the easiest one, and running with it. Clinging onto recycling and going overboard has led to this point, where the Philippines is the third largest dumper of plastics into the ocean, contributing to the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’.

Unfortunately, because they are not properly taught, people think that a full recycling bin means a good, healthy environment. Instead of reducing the output of waste or reusing many non-biodegradable materials, they are just being thrown into the recycling bin with the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality.

Last time our Conservation: Why Recycling is NOT an Option! article outlined the perils of just recycling, paying a special attention to plastics; a material that has the potential to outlive five generations, a material that has not seen a single piece of itself leave this earth.

This time around, there will be a discussion about the alternatives to single-use plastics. No point talking about a problem without offering solutions, right?

Straws

These are found everywhere and are so hard to avoid. Walk into any food establishment and they will bring you a straw with your drink every time. Sadly, straws are by far one of the biggest culprits as to why so many plastics end up in landfills or the oceans – nobody reuses straws, and most do not even bother putting them in the recycling bin, just straight in the trash.

When something is this regularly used and is clearly bad for the environment, something has to give. Clearly, these establishments know little more than their bottom line, and with plastics so ridiculously cheap it is hard to fault their logic as a business.

However, as an independent, free-thinking consumer, it is entirely up to you to change your practice. If you’re at home and you feel the need for a straw, maybe try using a metal or a bamboo straw! Metal straws generally come in either titanium or stainless steel, both of which are easily washed, reusable, and are better for the environment!

Bamboo straws may be a little harder to come by, but if you do, feel free to get a whole bunch of them! Not only are they eco-friendly, they are also very light and can be thrown in the backyard after you’re done with them, knowing full well that they will decompose in time.

Paper straws are perfect for larger parties. They stand to be as colourful as their plastic counterparts, are almost just as cheap, and are biodegradable, too! Plus, they aren’t as flimsy or as soft as stereotypes suggest.

It is tough to carry straws around, especially since not everybody makes plans to eat out or grab a drink to combat the sunny day. If you do find yourself in a restaurant or by the side of the road with a drink in your hand, try this – don’t use a straw! Sure, it may not be as convenient as you’re used to, but surely you don’t need a straw to put liquid in your mouth, right?

Cups

Unfortunately, sometimes when you order food and drinks to go, they are packed in a plastic cup or a plastic bag. Many establishments these days choose the paper cup but put a plastic lid on it, defeating the purpose. Sometimes you just need the lids and some places don’t carry paper cups as an alternative, so there needs to be a better way.

If at all possible, just drink it in store before you go, while you’re waiting for your food. Sure, glass takes approximately 1,000,000 years to decompose, but at its core, it has the same chemical makeup as sand. Its components are of no harm whatsoever to the environment and it is the second of the R’s, ie reuse. Way better than having to recycle plastic!

In the event that you need to have it to go, purchase a canned drink instead of a cup. It is not the ideal solution, but aluminum cans are recycled into aluminum cans once again, giving it much more use than the downcycling of plastic. It also takes around 80-200 years to decompose and while that is, again, not the ideal situation, it’s a lot shorter than plastic!

Bags

All around the world plastic bags are on their last legs. Many countries have a price tag on purchasing individual bags in an effort to dissuade excessive use, with some even banning it altogether. The Philippines is not yet one of those countries, but there have been some huge steps forward in recent years.

Many of the large supermarkets and department stores now offer alternatives to the standard plastic bag – the reusable canvas bag! Most of them can be found near the check-out counters and while they obviously cost more than the standard plastic bag (that are free), these can be reused, and being made from fabrics makes them natural, eco-friendly, and biodegradable!

Do ask about materials, as some are made from thicker plastics. It makes it more durable, but seeing as plastic is the problem it should be avoided.

Many of these bags may not look the best and seeing as it is meant to be reused, many of you may prefer nicer looking bags. Look in your nearest bookstore or crafts shop, many of them carry cute tote bags also made from fabrics! Pick a design you like and soon you will be using them, not only for your shopping but for everyday use, too!

Most recently, there has been an increase in biodegradable and oxo-degradable plastic bags coming from little stores. The biodegradable bags are awesome but do not be fooled by the oxo-degradable ones. While they are a step up from the status quo, they require a jump-start to the process (metal salt, not added when thrown in the trash), do not fully decompose due to lack of oxygen, and some carry trace elements like cobalt that further pollute the earth.

Bottles

Here in the Philippines, you will notice the abundance of people standing by the roadside selling bottles of cold water to the jeepney drivers driving past. Common practice, as you quickly realise that 1) Public transport here is generally not air-conditioned, and 2) It gets warm very quickly in the Philippines.

Sometimes this is inevitable, as the hot sun can quickly heat up a driver’s personal water bottle and he is left with a hot bottle of water on a hot day. You, however, as the average consumer, has a choice to make about your purchases.

Bottled water in the supermarket can cost as little as ₱10, making it tempting to just purchase it, finish it, and throw it away. The problem is if every other person thinks that way, it amounts to almost 50 million plastic bottles ending up in the trash every day.

The alternative is simple – carry your own water bottle! Obviously stay away from the thicker plastic bottles, just purchase a stainless steel one! They are a little heavier, but do not break as easily, and washes easily. Perfect for the traveler who wants to bring water on a flight but knows better than to purchase it before boarding!

Who’s helping?

Image: Facebook/OxoBioPlasticTechnology

While oxo-degradable plastics are still slowly finding their feet around the Philippines, a few of the brighter sparks have quickly taken the lead.

Companies like Pustanan Printers in Cebu have been rolling out not only oxo-degradable products but some compostable ones as well. Those are far more exciting as compostable means they are safe to put in a compost, ie worms, fungus, and bacteria are enough to break them down, leaving nothing behind but goodness for the soil and subsequent plants.

Thankfully, a shining light has taken hold and shown the way forward. In 2015, 15-year-old Amin Hataman, a high school student at the time, invented the 100% biodegradable plastic bag. He won bronze in the 2015 International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering, and Environment Project held in Texas.

Image: gineersnow.com

People have been either ignoring the problem, or working at it for years, and all it took was an observant teenager from Manila to invent the solution. He realized that putting plastic bags inside garbage bags prohibited decomposition, and thus came up with his idea – a bag made from nata de coco, a byproduct of coconut.

With a child leading the way, the future looks bright for removing single-use plastics in the Philippines. Hopefully, people will realise the genius behind the child and begin latching onto his ideas for a cleaner, greener Philippines.

Being the third largest contributor to the ocean’s plastics and the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ is something this country should not be proud of and should be working very hard to rectify. One day, the oceans will be clean again, but it will take every ounce of effort and hard work to get to how it was when it all began.

One more time for the people in the back, shout it to the heavens!

Preservation is a process. #SayNoToSingleUse