Ways to avoid plastic waste in 2018

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It’s the perfect time to consider lessening your plastic consumption. Illustration by JL JAVIER.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Around Holy Week last year, photos of garbage started cropping up all over Instagram. The photos — composed mostly of piles of plastic bottles, cups, utensils, sachets, and candy wrappers littering the shores of La Union — were part of a social project called Banned from the Beach, which was created by a resident surfer to remind tourists about proper waste management, especially along our shores. The Philippines ranks number three among the world’s worst offenders of plastic polluters in our oceans, and that plastic doesn’t just come from careless beach-goers. A lot of the plastic that goes into the ocean comes from illegally dumped garbage that is collected from our homes and businesses. This waste ends up endangering our wildlife, including seabirds and turtles that consume the harmful waste.

With January being the month of committing to new habits, and, coincidentally, National Zero Waste Month, it’s the perfect time to consider making a commitment to lessening your plastic consumption and disposal this year.

Avoid single-use plastic products

One of the biggest contributors to plastic waste is single-use, disposable products — plastic cups, bottles, utensils, straws, food containers, shopping bags — items which already have sustainable counterparts readily available today.

Cut out plastic cups and water bottles from your life by always having a water tumbler handy. Ditch plastic utensils and straws for wooden or metal ones. A Philippine-based company called Sip PH sells a stainless steel straw set that come with a canvas pouch and a brush, as well as a larger set with bamboo utensils.

Meanwhile, disposable personal hygiene products like sanitary pads and diapers, along with items with short lifespans like toothbrushes and disposable shavers, are also seeing their own reusable, sustainable counterparts. For toothbrushes, there are bamboo alternatives. For shavers, metal ones. Cloth diapers and cloth pads are readily available in specialty stores and online, while local company Sinaya produces menstrual cups, which are washable and reusable cups made of medical grade silicone meant to replace sanitary pads and tampons.

Avoid plastic packaging

It’s difficult to avoid plastic altogether, as most of the things we use today are made up of or contain plastic materials to some extent. Most products also come in plastic packaging, from laundry detergent to snacks. However, it is possible to be mindful of our purchases.

If you can, buy bigger bottles of shampoo and detergent, or, better yet, use bars instead of liquids. When shopping for fruits and vegetables at the market or grocery, bring reusable bags so you can opt out of wrapping each item in individual plastic bags.

Stuff plastic bottles

It isn’t easy for everyone to make adjustments in their purchases. Sachets are cheaper and thus more accessible to those with limited budgets. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t still make a contribution. If you cannot make changes in how you consume products, perhaps you can try changing your disposal habits. For example, instead of throwing everything out to the garbage, which is collected and sent either to overflowing landfills or illegally disposed in bodies of water, you can choose to collect your plastic and non-biodegradable waste in a plastic water bottle to create an ecobrick.

The ecobrick movement rose to popularity this year with local initiatives like The Plastic Solution, a movement that encourages people to repurpose plastic bottles into ecobricks, which serve as alternative fillers in construction. Ecobricks are simple to make: fill a plastic bottle with cut-up non-biodegradable waste until the bottle is stuffed. The bricks can then be sent to various drop-off points that partnered with the team behind the movement.

Start small, think big

The commitment to slowly eliminate plastic from your life can be an exciting and noble pursuit, but beware of getting caught up in the green trend, where switching to greener alternatives can make one feel like the battle is won. Personal consumption and disposal do contribute to the problem, but the issue is systemic, and much larger in scale.

In an audit conducted by Greenpeace on Manila Bay where over 54,000 pieces of plastic waste were collected, the bulk were of single-use plastics such as utensils, bottle, and straws, along with sachets and wrappers from products by major corporations like Nestlé, Unilever, and Universal Robina. For the millions of Filipinos living in poverty, hygiene essentials and food are only attainable in small amounts, thus the popularity of sachets. Big companies bank on low-income families’ dependence on this mode of consumption.

With the audit’s release, some companies have vowed to make efforts towards finding alternatives to plastic packaging, while other companies are choosing to discontinue certain products altogether. Interest in more sustainable efforts are slowly pushing big companies to find better ways in packaging and presenting their products. Meanwhile, government efforts to ban plastic is there, but it is sparse. Many cities have issued their own ordinances banning the use of plastic bags, but we have yet to see a national bill that bans plastic altogether.

Though small, personal steps are good, the fight against plastic waste cannot be won through individual actions alone. Officials and private companies should also have a more active role when it comes to protecting our oceans.