The Plastic Solution: Brick by Brick

The Plastic Solution is an environmental movement that aims to inspire action from individuals that range from young students to big corporations in the Philippines. Their mission is to preserve the lands and waters on which all life depends, by providing lasting solutions to the plastic pollution through the simple act of stuffing loose plastics into a smaller and compact container, known as ecobricks. We have been following their amazing work for some time and had to find out more. Peep the interview below.

 

Tell us a little bit about The Plastic Solution?

The Plastic Solution started in August 2016 when Ziggie Gonzales became fed up with seeing plastic trash in the water when we would go surfing. There was one particularly dirty surf session that inspired him to start researching on simple ways to spread awareness of the plastic pollution problem and find a way to manage how much waste we’re putting into the environment.

At this point, we would like to point out that we didn’t invent ecobricking ourselves. We found out about it, did more research, and decided to campaign for more ecobrick awareness in the Philippines through an advocacy that has now become known as “The Plastic Solution."

 

Can you tell us more about ecobricks, and how these are made and subsequently used? What is built with them?

Ecobricks are basically PET bottles of any size – mostly water or soda – that you fill with cleaned, dried, non-biodegradable material. We consider plastics and other plastic derivatives (styrofoam, polyester, etc.) a resource but unfortunately it is a very poorly managed resource since they are improperly disposed of. Ecobricks are a way of keeping these non-biodegradable materials from entering the environment where they will eventually pollute.

We also like to remove the phrase “non-recyclable” because while certain plastics can be recycled, the Philippines does not actually recycle majority of our plastic trash. These and other non-biodegradable materials (waste) often end up in landfills. We also use ecobricks as a way to monitor our consumption. As you fill up an ecobrick over time if you are conscious about your plastic dependency it will take you longer to fill up your ecobricks.

You can build non-load bearing structures such as perimeter walls, gardens, benches, chairs, waiting sheds etc. We hold the ecobricks together with a wire mesh+bamboo “sandwich” then seal it up with cement. (above image). There are also other ways of building with it like using silicone sealant to make stools and tables.

 

Can you share with us some facts or information about the scale of the ‘plastic problem’ in the Philippines?

Every day there is an estimated 35,000 tons of waste generated, 16% of which is plastic trash! That puts the non-biodegradable output of Metro Manila at 5,600 tons DAILY. From the latest study on solid waste management in the Philippines, we only have 553 total dumpsites nationwide (350 open dumpsites and 203 controlled dumpsites). From 900 in 2014 to 553 in 2015 - the country lost over 300 dumpsites in a single year. It is no surprise that our landfills are overburdened but what is surprising is that these dumpsites are disappearing. It’s either land is being bought up for more economically viable projects or that the dumpsites become too dangerous to operate and are forced to shut and “recover”.

Additionally the same waste management study estimates that by 2020, Metro Manila alone will produce 4.5 million tons of waste annually. It’s hard to imagine where all of this new waste will end up and it is inevitable that it will all end up in the ocean.

 

Does it frustrate you that the easiest thing to do is to point a finger at a country and say declare that they are the biggest (or in PHL case) the 3rd biggest source of plastic waste in the oceans and yet large corporations are not being held accountable for the amount of plastic they use in their packaging?

Yes. Ideally, there should be a social plastic movement where big corporations fund recycling centers and each non-biodegradable item is tagged to that specific company. For people who bring the waste back to the recycling centers they get a monetary value depending on weight. The plastic comes from somewhere. If we pushed for these corporations to be more mindful, more responsible, then maybe bigger change can be enacted on a larger scale.

This is a wakeup call that we ALL need to be stewards of the planet. We want to inspire, engage and empower others to take action in their own right. The plastic problem is immense and has become a global issue. But we can attack it locally, in our own backyards.

We want to form a mindset in the Philippines where we are aware of what we consume, and we know how to manage waste properly. We need a plastic/waste management coalition of sorts in the country, and we want to back it up with legal implementation.

 

How successful has the movement been so far? How are you mobilising and education communities on the issues surround plastic waste? How are you raising awareness?

We’ve been able to get a lot of traction in schools and corporations. The schools seem to be the most effective since the children continue to preach and practice. One of our volunteers teaches at a school where she introduced the concept of ecobricking while also educating the students and faculty on the issue of plastic trash. In just a month, the student body made close to 2,000 ecobricks which they then donated. But more than that, the school itself decided to take things a step further by banning single use plastic bags on campus. These are the changes that will add up in the future as hopefully more and more schools, companies and organisations take up the cause.

We have also been able to get a lot of coverage from different media, locally and internationally. And we also give talks to schools, companies and organisations. The more awareness there is of not only the problem but also that there are solutions, the better it will be for the planet.

 

Can you share with our readers a few simple ways by which they can reduce the amount of plastic they use every day?

The number one thing is to REFUSE SINGLE USE. Our reliance in plastic for convenience is killing our planet.

If an item is disposable, don’t use it. And then tell your families and friends to do the same. Simple things like plastic straws, shopping bags, utensils can be swapped out with very little expense for reusable options. Our team brings their own thermoses, take-out containers, and have “zero waste kits” that have reusable utensils and straws. When we order takeout for meetings, we are mindful to choose establishments that do not use plastic or Styrofoam containers. We also ask these places to not send us plastic utensils or condiments in sachets.

Another thing is we encourage people to patronise local markets – because everything there isn’t wrapped in plastic yet. If you can find a store that refills items such as shampoo or dishwashing liquids or even dry grocery goods, then even better.

Be aware of your consumption. Slowly move towards greener alternatives.

 


Is there a movement in the Philippines towards promoting responsible tourism and environmental conservation? Do you worry about the influx of tourism and the effects this has on the environment?

There are efforts here and there, but it needs to be bigger. There is a movement but it is not unified yet. The adverse effects of tourism can be mitigated if all stakeholders are involved in solving the problem. There is a way to push for more responsible tourism practices and education as well from both ends of the industry.

 

Is there a movement in the Philippines to enforce a change in the way big companies and corporations are packing their products in order to reduce plastic waste?

We have noticed that there is more awareness for pro-environmental and sustainable practices in the Philippines. The age of easy-access to information via the internet has helped in creating waves of awareness – as well as access to solutions. These pockets of movement are in their infancies and continue to need support.

 

Are there any other environmental preservation movements in the Philippines that you particularly like/support that we should be aware of?

We admire the work of so many organisations here that are also fighting the good fight. Among those who we have been in touch with are Save Philippine Seas, SEA Movement, Plastic Free Bohol, Plastic Free Philippines, the Earth Day Network.

 

What have been the highlights for The Plastic Solution so far? And what are your long-term goals?

We recently won a few awards for our sustainable practices and the advocacy. That was definitely a highlight, not because of the praise but because we take these awards as an indication that we are getting the word out about the campaign – and people are starting to take notice.

We want people to have a sustainable mindset, and not a disposable one.  On the political aspect, we’d like to help build the legal framework around plastic and other disposables and support local government units in enforcing and implementing these.

Economically, we want to help grow the plastic free economy by encouraging local production – give people alternatives and help grow the recycling/upcycling economy so that even the poorest of society has access to choices beyond more affordable, but often not earth-friendly options.

 

What’s next for The Plastic Solution? Are there any projects you are currently working on or looking forward to?

We are working on getting more education out there for more people to have access to. We are also working on applying for grants to get funding to get some projects off the ground and into communities that need them. There are also partnerships with corporations to get them moving in the right direction in terms of plastic footprint (how much plastic they produce and alternatives.  Last but not least, we are also working on community-based products that are sustainable and an alternative to plastic usage that can also be sources of income for these communities.

Thank you to Ziggie Gonzales, Raf Dionisio, Kage Gozun and Fiona Faulkner for their time and considered answers for this interview.