WATCH: How to repurpose plastic bottles into ecobricks
MANILA, Philippines – How can you turn plastic pollution into a solution?
Quite simple, according to the people behind the Plastic Solutions volunteer movement. All you need is a plastic bottle, a stick, and more plastic waste.
In the 3rd quarter of 2016, Raf Dionisio and his friends started out on a mission: to do their part in reducing plastic waste. They started Plastic Solutions, a volunteer movement that turns plastic bottles into ecobricks.
Ecobricks can be used to replace hollow blocks for building walls, providing a solution to the country's growing plastic problem.
Despite having one of the highest trash collection rates in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is among the top nations dumping plastic into the seas, according to a 2015 study conducted by Ocean Conservancy and the McKinsey Center for Business and Environment.
Joining the Philippines are China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Together, the 5 Asian countries contribute over half of all plastics that end up in the seas.
The Philippines alone generates 2.7 million metric tons (MT) of plastic garbage each year, 20% or 521,000 MT of which end up in the ocean.
"As a country, the Philippines really doesn't have the infrastructure to manage, segregate, and recycle all the plastic trash that we have. Many times, it ends up on the beach," Dionisio explained.
That is true, based on a study which found that 74% of the plastics leaking into the ocean from the Philippines – 386,000 MT – actually come from garbage already collected by haulers and garbage trucks. (READ: INFOGRAPHIC: Plastic in our seas: Why you should care)
The study attributed the leakage of collected garbage to two factors: illegal dumping by garbage-hauling companies, and open dumpsites located near waterways.
When Dionisio and his friends go surfing, they see all sorts of single-use plastics floating in the ocean – stuff like plastic bags, food wrappers, and water bottles.
"When you're paddling, you see there's a cookie wrapper here, there's an instant noodles [pack] here. We take them and we put in our pockets. Most of the surfers go around and do that. It's not a nice feeling [to see trash] because that's our playground and you're going to drink that water unintentionally because you're surfing," Dionisio said.
Seeing the problem firsthand pushed Dionisio and his friends to look for a solution.
"The plastic that our grandparents first used, it is still here today. It's either in the museum or on the ocean floor. I don't like the idea of us adding to it because it will never go away," Dionisio said.
They then thought of making ecobricks, alternative construction fillers which have been used in other parts of the world and even in the Philippines' Mountain Province.
To create an ecobrick, one needs to stuff plastic into plastic bottles tightly using a stick.
"Once it's compact, it's harder. Then we can use the bottle as a substitute for hollow blocks," Dionisio said.
Less than a year since they started, Plastic Solutions has repurposed an estimated 1.5 MT of plastic waste and put these to good use in Zambales, La Union, and Aurora. They also have at least 20,000 more bottles in stock, waiting to be used as alternative fillers.
The good thing about the initiative is that it does not just end with the ecobricks. Plastic Solutions also instills eco-friendly habits among its volunteers and partners.
"One of the behaviors it creates is that you realize that plastic is a hassle. You begin to realize that you are producing a lot of plastic trash. It has the desired effect to make more people more mindful of how much plastic they use," Dionisio said.
He noted that their volunteers have started using ecobags, metal straws, and other eco-friendly materials since they began the initiative.
According to Dionisio, Plastic Solutions has attracted volunteers from all walks of life and across age groups.
In one particular heartwarming moment, Dionisio recalled how a child came to his office to donate two ecobricks.
"I was at the office working and the door opens, and a 6-year-old girl comes in and gives me two ecobricks. The girl goes, 'Hi sir, can you take my ecobricks?' It's heartwarming because the little girl understands why you have to create ecobricks."
That encounter gave him much hope for the future.
Through collective action, Dionisio is optimistic that he would live long enough to see a plastic-free Philippines. – Rappler.com