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First impressions of plastic free & eco lifestyle in The Philippines

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

We are in the Philippines!! We flew in to Cebu very late on the 23rd, and stayed in a hotel next to the airport as a place to put our heads down post flight. The flights are long and we had a lot of luggage to cart around and we were both beyond exhausted when we arrived. Next day we bought some fruit and caught a bus up to next stop, which is a beautiful hut on the beach on the very Northern tip of Cebu Island. First impressions of the communities here are so amazing, everyone is friendly and welcoming. There is an obvious affinity with plants, as houses are covered in potted plants! Even the modest houses have tens of hanging baskets- or even water bottles stuffed with plants in. In terms of plastics- we knew before we arrived that there would be a lot of plastic everywhere. In Malaysia, rivers and streams can be filled with trash bags and assortments of plastic everywhere. Philippines takes one up on Malaysia- and some streets are piled high with rubbish. As we would leave bins outside for collection- here they are simply left outside, with no bin person to collect it.

There is certainly a throw away culture here. A coca cola shop, selling glass bottles, had hundreds of tops littering the doorstep of the shop, where they had been opened and discarded right there. This is fairly commonly seen in rural communities who have recently had an influx of plastic. Used to banana leaves and compostable packaging from the forest, they use and toss the plastic, assuming, like everything them and their ancestors have used before, it will disappear.

Lots of unnecessarily single use items also appear everywhere, shampoo for example as a single use is fairly common (not just in hotels but the super markets!) So although it is extremely disheartening to see so many plastic littering the environment in every which way you turn, there is a lot of hope and scope for celebration. We have already seen a fair amount of plastic free awareness. We saw a little old lady cleaning plastic from the streets in Cebu as soon as we arrived. She seemed quite happy- and plastics were going in old rice sacks. A positive sign for both local employment too. Our personal plastic use. When we came to The Philippines we knew we would have to step up the plastic free toolkit we already had and were already using everyday. (I’ll publish our pack list in the next fews days!) We also knew that we wouldn't always get what we wanted, and that sometimes we’d have to succumb to some plastic use. Our view of “plastic free campaigning” is not based upon aggression and shaming. The world is really only just waking up to the plastic problem, and we’re not assuming that either the people we encounter know about this issue, or don’t know. What we do know, is that being friendly compassionate human is an important part of both trying to promote a positive message and of being an open accepting and welcoming human being. I don't want to make someone feel ashamed, guilty or embarrassed. So, when we go about our time in The Philippines, it’s important to maintain that humanity. We will be asking for things in our own containers when we can. If it is obviously causing stress, confusion or out right upset, we will suck it up and get plastic. We won’t always instantly win, but we are hoping that by raising that first little interest in not wanting plastic, but being open and friendly we will leave a positive impression behind.

So far, this has worked out pretty well… Although first night here in a haze of tiredness we had a dinner along with a side of a lot of plastic. We are upset at the four plastic bags we obtained for one dinner. But we didn't have our plastic free toolkit on hand, and we are accepting that sometimes this will happen- when we’ll try and buy plastic free as much as possible- but wont always work! When we tried at the market this morning, most people seem a little confused at first- but did happily oblige. We got all our fruit and veg plastic free. We got a charcoal roasted chicken in our metal mess tin hassle free! At the bakery the man flat our did not understand, so we accepted the rolls in a bag. At the supermarket, there was a lot of plastic wrapped vegetables and everything everywhere was a plastic world of stuff. However, at checkout we were given a paper bag! Apparently the government has rolled out a programme where the supermarket has to give out paper instead of plastic twice a week! Score! A step in the right direction.

We have also found a number of machines to top up our water bottle! For only one peso you get half a bottle full. So, the situation is a bad as we had thought it might be. BUT there is also a lot of reasons to be very hopeful. The locals here are so incredibly friendly, that I hope we can just remain happy and open and ignite a plastics conversation, at the very least.

In terms of looking at life here holistically (and not just plastic free) I am eating a LOT more meat and eggs here than I ever normally do. My plan was to eat lots of fruit and veg and rice with little scope for meat and eggs. This is how I feel healthiest, lightest and have a smaller impact on the environment. Read more about that here. But living mostly vegan here is hard already! Breakfasts at homestays are eggs and they do not understand “egg free please!” Fruit is seriously abundant and delicious so I am going to eat as much as I can, whilst supplementing with whats on offer and as local as possible! Although vegan is ideal environmentally speaking, it’s also a huge part of travel to give back to the local community and culture- so eating locally grown and cooked chickens is a pretty good option! I’m also very excited to try local Pork dishes on special occasions and to eat locally caught fish.


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