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3 Ways to Make Earth Hour Count

I first learned about tingi or sachet culture as a child vacationing in the Philippines from Los Angeles, and I didn’t get it: Why would you buy just a handful of shampoo? Doesn’t that mean you have to buy more, more often? It didn’t make sense to me economically; my single mom had taught me we could save more money by buying in bulk at Fedco (the original wholesale warehouse, before Costco). 

Now that I’m older, I understand many Filipinos can’t afford the full-size package of coffee, cooking oil or shampoo. When food and personal care products are sold in single-use, plastic-and-aluminum packets for ?10, consumers can justify the purchase as cheap and convenient. The culture, in turn, allows big companies like Unilever, NestlĂ©, Procter & Gamble, Universal Robina, Colgate-Palmolive and Indonesia’s PT Mayora (maker of Kopiko) to cash in on poorer segments of the population.

The downside, of course, is the immense amount of trash from these single-use sachets, and plastic waste in general, which pollutes our oceans and kills our wildlife and the environment. Each year, the world produces 300 million tons of plastic and dumps 8 million tons of plastic waste into the sea.

 Philippine marine debris © Gregg Yan / WWF Philippines

The Philippines is one of the biggest culprits. Our archipelagic nation is the world’s third worst ocean plastic polluter, after China and Indonesia, discarding nearly 7,000 tons of plastic each day, according to a 2015 study in the journal Science. Thailand and Vietnam round out the top five. Meanwhile, Metro Manila produces a fourth of the country’s daily output of solid waste, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. If we continue at this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world's oceans by 2050.

 

So what can we do about this plastic pollution crisis? Even as the Philippines marked its 12th year participating in Earth Hour with the rest of the world on March 30, I wonder if we’re doing enough. Sitting in darkness for an hour to shed light on protecting the environment is a nice visual campaign, but how can we turn that into concrete action? 

It starts with bold leadership… in government, business and homes. Changing mindsets and behavior is never easy, especially if you’re an official with multiple priorities, a company focused on the bottom line, or an employee making ends meet to feed your family. Principles like saving the environment are set aside for survival. That said, change requires collaboration, so every sector needs to do its part to move the Philippines in the right direction.

 

 

Here are three ways to make the meaning of Earth Hour go “beyond the hour:”

1. Local government officials must implement existing laws and invest in sustainable practices. The Philippines has strong environmental and waste management laws, but enforcement is weak and earmarked funds are susceptible to corruption. Local officials lack incentive or political will and are rarely held accountable for non-compliance. Independent audits can help assess what needs to be done in each city to ensure waste is managed properly, such as the handling of biodegradable waste, recyclables and residual waste. Some cities have banned plastic shopping bags or at least regulate their use, sale and disposal.

San Fernando, Pampanga, has been touted as having one of the best waste management models in Asia, with local government, Mother Earth Foundation and schools working together to implement a waste reduction and recycling program. 

Meanwhile, the European Parliament approved a landmark law banning 10 single-use plastic items, including straws, cotton buds and cutlery by 2021, directing the closure of open dump sites and requiring city and municipal governments to organize and sustainably manage the collection and disposal of solid waste. It also aims to recycle 90 percent of beverage bottles by 2029.

 

2. Corporations and the business community must find cost-effective solutions and provide eco-friendly alternatives. Banning plastic is not the end-all solution. Governments needs to incentivize sustainable business practices, reward the development and entry of eco-friendlier alternatives in the market, and penalize damaging practices. Only by eliminating single-use plastics in the supply chain can we encourage long-term change in consumer behavior. Consumers can’t buy what’s not available. Some supermarkets, for instance, are using creative packaging, such as wrapping produce in banana leaves to minimize plastic, while scientists are developing viable alternatives to plastic.

 

3. Individuals must take responsibility for their ecological footprint and set an example for others. It’s easy to overlook the impact of ocean pollution amid the noise of our daily lives. Campaigns like the United Nations Environment Programme’s #BeatPlasticPollution movement and WWF-Philippines’ #AyokoNgPlastik hope to raise awareness that even small acts like bringing your own cutlery and water bottle, using an eco-bag or volunteering for a coastal cleanup can make a difference and set an example of hope for future generations. 

“It’s becoming very clear today with everything that’s happening in the world – with water shortages and with storms growing in strength each and every year and with whales washing up on beaches with stomachs full of plastic – that the planet is changing all around us, and that we’ve played a major role in that,” says WWF-Philippines Climate and Energy Head and Earth Hour Pilipinas National Director Atty. Gia Ibay. “We only have a little over a decade to keep things from spiraling out of control. Change is needed and it is needed now, and we hope Earth Hour continues to be the force that brings us all together for the sake of the planet.”

The World Wildlife Fund network launched the “No Plastic in Nature Initiative” which aims to stop plastics from entering nature by eliminating unnecessary plastic, doubling reuse, recycling and recovery, and ensuring plastic is sourced responsibly by 2030.  Sign the petiton for a global and legally binding UN agreement to stop the leakage of plastics in our ocean at wwf.org.ph/plastic-petition/.

 

READ: Earth Hour 2019: Iza Calzado Shares 6 Easy-To-Follow Tips To Help Save The Planet

 

Looking ahead to Earth Day on April 22, this month is the ideal time to take a good look at your consumer habits and find ways to reduce your use of plastic and lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Maybe you'll find you don't need the plastic spoon and fork or that sachet of 3-in-1 coffee.

 

Head photo from WWF