Reclaiming our future from the plastic waste crisis

Last March, Dr. Deo Florence Onda made history as the first Filipino to reach Emden Deep, the third deepest part of the Earth. At 34,100 feet below sea level, the Filipino scientist was shocked to find plastic in one piece. It seems that man-made plastics have reached the world’s most remote areas well before humans.

The Philippines is in a plastic pollution crisis. Every day, 164 million sachets and 57 million plastic bags are used throughout the Philippines based on a study conducted by the Global Alliance of Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) in 2019. With the erratic quarantine measures and restrictions implemented to curb COVID-19 infection rates, our reliance on e-commerce, food deliveries, and personal protective equipment (PPEs) has dramatically increased.

Many of us, young Filipinos, were weaned to the throwaway culture and the incessant need to consume “tingi” from tiny, flexible, and multi-packaged sachets that will take at least several centuries to disintegrate. However, decades ago, things were different. Instead of going to purchasing products in smaller packages, Filipinos would bring their own reusable or refillable containers and purchase a cup of flour, sugar, or other products at just the right amount matching how much they need.

This practice, however, was “hijacked” by bigger companies, introducing sachets to cater to a massive market of low to middle-income consumers. Now, most of us think that sachets are essential, when in fact they have only existed in a few decade.

What’s SUP? Youth’s role in the plastic crisis

Be that as it may, the plastic pollution crisis is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. It is an issue that does not recognize class, politics, and boundaries. 

From national to local governments, civil society organizations, businesses, and most especially the youth—everyone has an important role to play in addressing the problem.

Together with Greenpeace Philippines, The Climate Reality Project Philippines Youth Cluster launched What’s SUP, an anti-single-use plastic campaign that aims to empower the youth to act on the plastic crisis.

The first phase of What’s SUP is an online information, education, and communication (IEC) campaign in the form of a month-long calendar of bite-sized challenges. It was launched with the screening of Ang Huling Plastic, followed by rich discussions and social media posts with insights of the participants. All the information on the plastic crisis could get overwhelming so these easily digestible challenges were curated by the What’s SUP team to help Climate Reality Leaders and the public learn more about it, take action, and push for systemic change.

Building on the success of phase one, the What’s SUP team took the opportunity to create a more ambitious and multi-stakeholder second phase that involves collaboration with schools and universities, businesses, legislators, and the public. We plan to roll out The Plastic-Free Agenda integrated into the school curriculum in partnership with the Department of Education. The goal is to mount a more aggressive IEC campaign for the general public, work with micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) on cutting back their plastic consumption, and form a coalition that collaborates on phasing out single-use plastics through various means, including pushing for the passage of an environmentally sound single-use plastics regulation act.

While phase two is still in the works, youth Climate Reality Leaders participated in the Break Free From Plastic brand audit campaign for the International Coastal Clean-Up Day. The audit revealed most of the single-use plastic waste comes from companies like Procter and Gamble, Universal Robina, Coca Cola, Jollibee, Nestle, Monde Nissin, Shopee, and more.

These youth initiatives were made possible through the collaboration of passionate climate justice advocates and the support of Climate Reality Philippines and other organizations.

Educate, vote, and go beyond social media

The What’s SUP campaign has shown the limitless potential of the youth. With the youth’s creativity, innovation, and energy, we can make meaningful change. The challenge, therefore, is to work collaboratively and go beyond the campaigns on social media and educate younger Filipinos on zero-waste practices.

Furthermore, we must dictate our sustainable future by voting leaders who understand that economic development and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. The youth, in its sheer number and diversity, is a strong agent for change.

We must work together in embracing our potential to be the catalyst that is needed to reclaim our sustainable future.

Author: Ari Tanglao