MANILA, Philippines – The idea began because a young man was fed up seeing piles of garbage reeking on street corners. He got rather obsessed with finding a way to get his neighbors to tidy up and sort out their own trash even before the garbage collectors come. What if – he thought – the solution lay in something every neighborhood already has: sari-sari stores?
Getting owners of these mom-and-pop stores to oversee the segregation of their neighbors’ garbage might seem like a difficult pitch, but when Ateneo fresh grad Niels Nable presented his team’s idea at the finals of Pasig City’s Climathon on Saturday, October 26, it was a full-on, well thought-out proposal with answers ready for the judges’ loophole-spotting questions.
Pasig held the Philippines’ first ever Climathon – a hackathon focused on climate problems – on October 25 and 26 at the city hall’s sports center, joining 100 other cities in 46 countries across the globe in the simultaneous event. The 52 participants in Pasig, of whom many were residents, comprised 15 teams that came up with ideas to solve the city’s garbage and traffic problems. They were to turn those ideas into concrete, doable plans.
At the end of the second day, the 6 teams with the best proposals got to pitch them to Mayor Vico Sotto and a panel of experts. The two best proposals will be implemented by the Pasig City government.
Nable, who lives in Pasig’s Barangay Bagong Ilog, could hardly believe that the concept he had only imagined would soon become part of his city’s environmental policies and programs.
However, his team’s victory left him just a tiny bit worried.
“We’re not sure how communities will take the idea, how receptive they will be, whether they will have a positive response,” Nable told Rappler.
Their proposal, called “Sari-cycling," is to put proper garbage segregation bins adjacent to sari-sari stores. Households will deposit their segregated trash in these bins instead of tossing them at vacant lots or street corners.
The store owners are to make sure their neighbors dispose their garbage in the proper bins. Aside from the income they will earn from selling readily recyclable items like glass and PET bottles, the store owners will also get incentives from the local government if they succeed in their task.
Some people might not like the idea at first, Nable said, but based on interviews his team conducted among residents, they’re just as sick as he is of the garbage problem in their neighborhoods, and they want a solution.
All they need is a little push, which will come from the city government. The mayor said city hall is ready to give Sari-cycling a try.
“From the looks of it, maganda naman 'yung mga plan nila (their plans are good) so I’m looking forward to them, especially the garbage disposal. It’s been a problem, so hopefully this will help us,” Sotto told Rappler after he announced the Climathon winners.
Pasig's young mayor wants citizens to be involved in crafting the city's policies and programs. During his first 100 days in office, he held public consultations on matters such as education, housing, and relocation to make his governance more inclusive. (WATCH: Rappler Talk: 100 days on, Vico Sotto vows never to become 'trapo')
Climathon's other winning team proposed a social enterprise to “upcycle” plastic waste. Using simple, inexpensive recycling machines set up at material recycling facilities around the city, they would turn discarded plastic into sellable items like tools and fashion accessories – basically anything that people use or keep longer than product packaging.
The enterprise would hire women and persons with disability, who often have a hard time finding jobs in Pasig.
The creators, engineering students and fresh grads from UP Diliman, call themselves “Cloop,” short for “Closing the loop between people and technology.” Their idea was born sometime in 2018 as they were working on their theses and other projects.
"To see people believe in it is really surreal,” Cloop’s Glenn Ongpin told Rappler. He had invested his own money in machine prototypes, not knowing whether he would ever earn it back.
His friend, Ric Alindayu, who grew up in Pasig’s Barangay Kapitolyo, felt vindicated.
"You’re very positive about the idea at first but then you get negative feedback, like there will be a lot of competition, or that recycling plastics is expensive. So in that sense, we were able to refine our business model,” Alindayu said.
Leslie Yasis, also from Cloop, said she felt the urgency of curbing plastic waste.
"I don’t come from a well-off family. I don’t drive a car. I commute every day. We’re forever exposed to bad air. I really feel the impact of climate change,” Yasis added.
It’s that sense of urgency that drove Carla Mumar, founder and CEO of the startup Scale Solutions, to bring the international Climathon effort to the Philippines. The global network could help support local efforts with its “mentorship ecosystem," and in turn give Filipino ideas a global platform – and greater impact.
“We’re fighting for the human race here,” Mumar told Rappler.
Each Climathon event needs a host city. After getting an initial nod from the EU-based Climate-KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community), the organization behind Climathon, Mumar pitched the idea to Sotto, who happens to be her brother.
Sotto told her to pitch Climathon to Pasig’s environment officer and follow the regular procedure in proposing projects to the city government.
Besides the obvious reasons, Mumar said Pasig was an ideal host for Climathon because the city has a Freedom of Information (FOI) program, which Sotto authored when he was a councilor in 2018.
Climate-KIC requires Climathon challenges to be based on the host city’s data, which was readily available in Pasig because of FOI, Mumar said.
The challenges that the Pasig Climathon participants had to solve were identified based on the city’s environment-related data.
One challenge was, "How can we sustainably reduce wastes in production and consumption while driving creative recycling?"
The second challenge was, "How can we create productive mobility systems that increases inclusion while decreasing pollution?”
The winners, Sari-cycling and Cloop, were chosen based on how well they addressed these challenges.
'Simple and elegant solutions'
Each winning team will receive P150,000 from PLDT to fund their project, P100,000 worth of training and coaching from Scale Solutions, "incubation support" from the De La Salle College of Saint Benilde’s Hub of Innovation for Inclusion, and other perks such as co-working spaces and web hosting from other corporate sponsors.
A third team from De La Salle University will receive Benilde's “incubation support” under the school's “The Future Shapers Program” for the “bioretention” filtration system it proposed to curb erosion and siltation caused by runoff water.
The judges included representatives from businesses, NGOs, the academe, and government agencies.
One of them, Smart Developer Network’s Paul Pajo, noted how the effort allowed Pasig to take advantage of bright ideas just waiting to be picked.
"It’s very good to listen to citizens come up with simple and elegant solutions, that if the government actually implements them, the impact will be amplified. It will actually be city-changing in a way, right?” Pajo told Rappler.
But for Sari-cycling’s Juvien Galano, a Caviteño taking a master’s course in technology governance and digital transformation at the Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia, Pasig will just be the starting point of his advocacy for the entire Philippines.
"Ako’y naiinis na sa basura because I've been to different places at nalulungkot lang ako na – bakit hindi puwede sa bakuran ko na malinis at maayos ang kapaligiran at hindi madumi?” Galano asked.
(I’m so fed up with [our] garbage [problem] because I’ve been to different places and it depresses me that – why can’t my own backyard have an orderly and clean environment?) – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.