Garbage in paradise: The price of Panglao’s rise as tourist destination

Early on a Saturday, Jam Ungab leads a pack of volunteers from Plastic Free Bohol to pick up renegade trash along Libaong White Beach, a 3-kilometer stretch of white sand on the island of Panglao, Bohol.

Locals say this stretch could rival Boracay – it depends really on who you ask.

For they say the same of the other beaches on the island: a tricycle driver would point to Dumaluan Beach, a local favorite that's connected to Libaong Beach; a local official would claim the best are the undeveloped stretches of Doljo and Danao, both overlooking the bay and the flat reef; tourists say the vibe is closer at the famous Alona Beach that has been beckoning to tourists as early as the 1980s.

Panglao boasts of 555 hectares of shoreline and 5 major beaches. But all these stretches have one thing in common: they are peppered with trash.

The 3-hour clean-up drive in Libaong alone produced 30 sacks of garbage – mostly recyclables and residuals. In September 2017, the movement collected 1,504.78 pounds during a morning clean-up on the same beach stretch.

“It’s really getting worse. Every month, we keep on picking up more and more trash. Every time we return to the same area, the garbage increased,” Jam lamented.  

Plastic Free Bohol is a movement that raises awareness about plastic pollution in Bohol. It was an organization borne out of frustration that tourism is triggering the rise of unmanaged garbage that ends up on the coastlines, explained Jam. 

Everything is allowed

After looking at Panglao’s policies that affect tourists, we found out that there are only two that directly relate to waste: the ban on broken glasses in public and the anti-loitering policy. The municipality has a plastic bag ban that has yet to be implemented.

The policies, however, do not translate fully on the ground, especially with the quick turnover of tourists during peak seasons.

For independent tour guide Mai, who has been roaming the beaches of Panglao on a daily basis for the last 3 years, the garbage problem can be traced to the lack of cleanliness programs.

“I don’t notice that there’s any program to clean Panglao,” she said. “Smoking is allowed in the beaches so smokers just leave the cigarette butts everywhere.” She noted that these had become a common sight on Alona Beach.

There is also no standard training for tour guides and agents to brief tourists on how to handle the waste, especially mineral bottles they bring for island-hopping and animal interaction activities during the tours.

“Tourists, especially the Pinoys, have no discipline,” Mai said. “They just leave everything behind. They should bring a plastic bag, compile their trash, then throw it when they see a trash can.”

When asked if she orients tourists about proper trash disposal, Mai laughed, shaking her head. “No, I don’t.” –

This story is part of a series on tourism and waste management in the Philippines, and was supported by the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN).