One of the best parts about traveling in the Philippines is finding yourself on an island in the middle of nowhere, with nary a soul in sight.
You dip your toes in the sea and there’s the foamy waves on your feet, the warm saltwater, and, more and more often now, the nudge of a floating plastic straw, a discarded potato chip bag, a thin plastic scrap that might’ve held supermarket vegetables for about 20 minutes, the duration of the trip home from the store, before being tossed away.
Recently, my friend Attilio sent me photos from a diving trip he took in Anilau. In place of colorful fish were plastic bags.
“It’s not always there,” he texted me about the plastic, “but the currents brought it in.”
I’ve seen documentaries about plastic in oceans, specifically the famous example of the Pacific Garbage Patch, so I understand how it gets there. The Guardian published this interesting article in 2017 that includes animated maps showing the major gyres in our oceans.
What this says to me is that, no matter where we live, our impact on the planet is far-reaching.
I also know that high-income countries, like the US, generate more plastic waste per person, but tend to have better systems in place for managing plastic waste. And that’s great. What surprises me the most is when cities try to implement better systems for avoiding the production of plastic waste in the first place – like Asbury Park bars placing a ban on single-use plastic straws, and the city council ordinance on the table right now to ban single-use plastic bags – is the pushback.
Especially in places like New Jersey, where the shore and the ocean are such a huge part of who we are. I get that all the trash on the beaches doesn’t necessarily come from New Jersey, but if there’s a way – even a small way – to reduce our impact on the oceans and our planet, why not try it? (If you’re interested in the trash that’s found on New Jersey beaches, check out this 2018 report by Clean Ocean Action.)
The purpose of this entry isn’t to judge or to preach, but to suggest that small changes can have some impact. I am not an idealist who believes that by my own personal shunning of plastic straws I will change the world. With everything happening today, I feel more powerless than ever to make change. But the way I see it is, I could be disheartened and throw in the towel, or I could make the choice to stop contributing to the issue.
It isn’t always an easy choice. And I’m not even close to being great at it. I still use more plastic than I should. But I use less than I used to. And I do think that if enough people see how easy it is to make small changes, and how affordable, that we can have an impact.
It doesn’t have to start off as a major overhaul of our habits. It can be one small thing. I’m going to share 3 small things that I found really easy to change.
1: using a reusable cloth bag when grocery shopping. This cost me about $4 per bag. I bought 3. They are big enough to hold all of my groceries (which is good because I walk from my apartment to the store and heavy bags are not fun to carry in 90 degree heat), they are durable (I bought them four years ago when I first moved to Manila), and they are washable.
If you have something that leaks, it sucks. But I think the brief inconvenience of wiping something off your jeans or your counter is better than wrapping it in a plastic bag you’ll never use again but that will exist on the planet for another 10-100 years. (Estimates vary. Here’s one of the sources I found.)
You can also avoid plastic bags in the vegetable aisle by having them put the price sticker on the vegetable. Super easy.
The second: using a reusable water bottle. I know that the argument here is that it’s ridiculous to pay $20-40 for a water bottle. But let’s assume that you buy one 12-pack of bottled water a week at $3. (Is it that cheap? Is a dozen enough to properly hydrate for one week? Let’s say yes.) That means you’re spending over $150 on water each year. A $20 investment in a water bottle seems reasonable in comparison. Plus, assuming you live in a place where clean, potable water is coming out of your faucet, you have lots of free refills. (Here’s a list of the best ones, according to Mashable.)
The third: this awesome burrito thing. It folds up and fits in your purse or your backpack (I don’t know how guys would carry this…now I’m curious) and comes in handy when you need a straw or utensils. It also comes with a straw cleaner.
I’m not saying that I’m some paragon of environmental consciousness, because I’m not. I’m working on it. But I feel lucky to have grown up hiking in Hartshorne and swimming in Sea Bright, and I feel fortunate to be able to visit islands in the Philippines whose forests are dinosaurian, whose oceans are teeming with sea turtles and whale sharks and nudibranches (because, great name). And I think we could all do a bit more to help keep things that way.
Some additional links:
Some hopeful links to cool organizations:
And cool stuff happening in the Philippines : ) –> Check out The Plastic Solution on FB