From Basilan to Forbes: The young scientist behind biodegradable plastic bags

Amir Mawallil

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From Basilan to Forbes: The young scientist behind biodegradable plastic bags
Forbes Magazine's young game-changers under 30 include Amin Hataman, the ARMM governor's 15-year-old son who invented biodegradable bags made from coconut by-product

COTABATO CITY, Philippines – He sings, plays the piano, and he’s good with the guitar. When he’s not mixing one chemical compound with another, he plays football with his friends.

But what he loves the most is spending time at the beach.

For this young man from Mindanao, nothing can beat the stunning translucent waters and powder-fine sand beaches in his hometown Basilan, a statement of fact badly overshadowed by the island’s reputation of violence and terror.

Every now and then, Amin Hataman goes home to Basilan to reunite with his family. But this break from school would be incomplete without spending time at the beach – prancing around the sand, frolicking, and having long, silent walks.

It was his attachment to the beach – to nature –  that inspired the 15-year-old’s plastic bag project that had him included in the first Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list.

“Growing up in Mindanao, we just kind of get this appreciation for the environment and of nature in general,” said Hataman. “The abundance of this beautiful natural wonders has taught me that we have important roles to play as caretakers of the earth. We should not take for granted whatever is around us.”

Hataman is the youngest in the first Forbes 30 under 30 Asia list, the only Mindanawon. (READ: 10 Filipinos on Forbes ’30 Under 30 Asia’ list)

BOY FROM BASILAN. Growing up in Basilan, where the sea is clear and stunning, taught Amin to love the environment, according to the Hatamans. Photo from Amin Hataman's Facebook page

Pride of Mindanao

The student of Fountain International School was recognized for his biodegradable plastic bag project, a school project that he believes will contribute to the lessening of the use and disposal of plastic bags that make their way to the ocean and cause the demise of marine wildlife. The project was a collaboration with his friend, Turkish Gokturk Memduh Karabulot.

In 2011, the Philippines passed the Total Plastic Bag ban. But as of 2014, only around 15 cities in the country implemented the law that prohibits the use of plastic bags in grocery stores, restaurants, and other establishments.

“I have seen how people dispose of plastic bags, throw them improperly or burn them. We know that that’s not the right way to do it,” he said.

For his biodegradable plastic bag project, Hataman won the bronze medal at the International Sustainable World Energy, Engineering and Environment Project held in Houston, Texas in May last year. Before this, he was also awarded the gold medal at the International Young Inventors Olympiad in Georgia.

These recognitions, he said, are very important for him as a Mindanawon.

“My parents kept on telling me to keep going,” he said, referring to Gov. Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Rep. Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman of the Anak Mindanao Partylist.

“This is very important because, let’s admit it, not too many Moro get to have the same recognition, not too many Moro are able to make it.”

Governor Hataman said Amin’s success is the success of the Bangsamoro.

“We are proud of what he has so far done,” he said. “We hope that this will inspire other Moro to work hard and work not only for themselves, but for the communities. His journey and the recognitions given to him only prove one thing – that the Bangsamoro is capable of doing great things.”

His mother, Sitti Djalia, said Amin was never “comfortable with all the recognitions.”

“We woke up to this news, clueless,” she said.

“He has never been comfortable with all the recognition… He believes so many others are more deserving.”

Sitti Djalia noted how funny it was she that she had to “call him to comfort him first, then congratulate.”

HATAMAN'S HOBBIES. Amin, a student at Fountain International School, loves sports, music, and a bit of politics, he says. Photo from Amin Hataman's Facebook page

Love for the environment

Aside from science, Hataman excels in history. “I will not mention math,” he quipped.

But the life of the young scientist is not always spent in school. Politics is something that he brings into the plate with his friends – sometimes – even when they are playing football.

“I think it’s normal that people talk about politics,” he said.

“Being the son of a governor and a member of Congress, we sometimes talk about the situation of the country and how politics is affecting all of us. We talk about the elections. We put in our views and sometimes, I mention my parents.”

While both of his parents are both into politics, the young Hataman wants to pursue his passion to protect the environment through Science.

Not that he doesn’t like politics, but he said he wants to do more for the environment. He wants to make a name in that field.

More than being the governor’s son, the young Hataman says he wants “to be known for who I am and for what I have done and what I can still do for the environment.” –

Amir Mawallil, 27, is the executive director of the ARMM’s Bureau of Public Information.

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