Plastics

Before I moved to the Philippines I had started adapting to a zero-waste lifestyle. I had been bringing my own shopping bags to the supermarket for years and was used to toting a reusable mug everywhere possible. I knew of the dangers that misplaced garbage could provide to marine life and was an advocate of coastal clean-ups throughout college and thereafter. For a long time I was content with just that. Then one day while sitting on the ship I was working on, I watched a plastic bag drift across an otherwise clean-looking ocean and something clicked in me: I needed to know more. I started researching the amount of plastic pollution in the oceans, its effect on marine life, the environment and peoples’ health. I wasn’t entirely shocked but, frankly, a bit scared. Is it possible, that we are we destroying our planet with trash? So I started to make some changes.

In the US it was relatively easy to reduce my waste output. There are cardboard and paper packaging alternatives, I can buy products in bulk, and easily refrain from putting my produce in more plastic bags. There was weekly recycling pick up from my house and local supermarkets provided recycling for odd items such as batteries and Styrofoam. By January 2016, I was firm on the idea that I had bought my last set of mass-made toiletries and was ready to start making my own in reusable containers. I had exchanged my tampons for a single menstrual cup some months prior and was looking at alternatives for disposable razors and plastic toothbrushes. Slowly, I was shrinking my plastic footprint on the planet.

Then I was invited to serve in the Peace Corps, this incredible honor… in the Philippines; the world’s third worst producer of plastic pollution in the oceans. My problem with plastics was about to get a LOT bigger.

It’s taken me a long time to write these pages, I started during my fifth month and made it to my eighth before posting them; it has taken me a while to process the pollution problem here. And I’m still processing. The issues runs much deeper than lacking environmental education or an efficient recycling program. I certainly don’t have the solution (though I have ideas) and in the meantime I have started to have great conversations about pollution with local community members and fellow volunteers. I have also gotten myself back on the wagon in my refusal to use plastic; it’s hard to say no when my language skills are rudimentary and I am often generously offered plastic-encased snacks at every social event; I’m trying to find a middle ground – a polite and friendly and informative way to refuse plastic.

So I’m dedicating these set of pages to what I call ‘The Plastic Problem’, its prominence worldwide and in the Philippines, and my personal experiences trying to combat these issues. If you hover above ‘Plastics’ on the menu bar you will find more pages detailing the ways that I have reduced waste within different aspects of everyday life as well as the pollution problem in the Philippines. ‘The Good, The Bad, and The Downright Polluted’ talks of the global epidemic of plastic waste. ‘Plastic in the ‘Pines’ details the complex cycle of poverty and plastic production here and why it is so hard to break. I am also collecting innovative and heartwarming ways in which locals are already reducing or reusing single-use products as seen in ‘Pretty in Plastic’.

All of this is a work-in-progress. I am always learning something new about plastics, pollution, and the role of both of these in the Philippines. I am definitely not perfect at being zero-waste; some days I am travelling unprepared and I end up buying something that produces trash. Other days I manage to convince someone else not to use an unnecessary piece of plastic and I watch a light bulb turn on for the first time. These pages are about those experiences—good and bad—in a hope that sharing them will not only help spread awareness on these issues but maybe lead to some solutions.

Also, if you haven’t met me in person and can’t tell from reading this, know that I LOVE talking about this subject. If you have any questions, suggestions, or feedback I would love to hear it! If you want to start a discussion—or even an argument—on the use of plastics and pollution, go for it! If you have alternatives to some of my recipes or other tricks to help produce less waste, share them! I’m an open book here… and I know I’ve got plenty to learn, I think we all do!

As always, thanks for reading!
S

***These plastic pages are still a work in progress and island internet means it takes a long time to load each one, so bare with me! Soon to be posted: my list of zero waste toiletries and shopping options! Thanks for your patience and support!***

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