In observance of the Zero Waste Month this January, we talked to Climate Reality Leader Abigail “Abby” Ng for a #RealiTalk feature on the country’s problem of waste and how we can initiate our own efforts towards a zero or minimal waste lifestyle.

 

Abby is a Program Associate at Villgro Philippines and a freelance artist. She is also the external relations officer of Bye Bye Plastic Bags PH, a youth-led environmental conservation organization.

What are your or your organization’s initiatives to promote zero waste? What is 

your role in this initiative? What has been your experience thus far?

 

Abby: I think we should change the term zero-waste to “minimal waste” because there will be waste produced no matter how eco-friendly we want to be. I’m part of the “Bye Bye Plastic Bags Philippines” team, and one of the ways we do this is to relate the issue back to the people. What we do to the environment, we do to our people. When we protect the environment, we protect ourselves and the generations to come. And when we don’t, we risk the lives of those who will come after us.

A year ago, we held our first plastic fashion show, but we made sure to do this in a way that was real and meaningful, rather than something glamorous that could keep us away from the real issues we wanted to address. We partnered with a local community and talked about the very real consequences they suffer from being exposed to pollution.

It was a life changing moment for me because only when we planned that event that I realized how closely connected people were to the Earth and how differently plastic pollution affect low-income families. Our goal was never to force people to completely change their lifestyle into a “zero-waste” one, but to raise awareness on the amount of waste we generate can harm others and to show them that we can address this issue together.

 

How do you conduct these initiatives? Do you coordinate with volunteers, local authorities, and community residents?

 

Abby: We have a pool of volunteers, a network of environmental leaders, and partner communities. We try our best to give our volunteers avenues to be as involved as possible, so we can also build their own skills as leaders. For our partners, we have grown close to quite a few and aim for more long-term partnerships to continuously build on our initiatives. We are working towards the same goals, so we also want to leverage on each other’s networks to reach more people. Partnerships are so important since a lot of us are members of small local organizations. Working together gives us a bigger platform where we can deepen connections.

"I think one of the most effective ways to encourage minimal waste is to make sure alternatives are affordable and accessible because people choose the more convenient option."
ABBY NG

How would you encourage households, schools, businesses, and workplaces to promote zero waste? How should an individual start with zero-waste initiatives and lifestyle?

 

Abby: I think one of the most effective ways to encourage minimal waste is to make sure alternatives are affordable and accessible because people choose the more convenient option. We also have to show how it benefits them because not everyone has a natural inclination to being an environmental advocate. 

When it comes to individual action, I think it would be best to start with something you’re comfortable with. If switching to shampoo bars is easiest for you, then start with that and slowly make more changes as you go. If you have your own reusable jug, you don’t have to buy a new and expensive one just for the sake of it. It’s important to remember that less is more! Use what you already have, and it will help you become more grateful and content.

Can the Philippines achieve a zero-waste economy? What is your or your organization’s vision for a waste-free Philippines?

 

Abby: Our goal as an organization is to help people understand that while conscious consumerism allows us to take better care of our environment, the needed change will only happen when big corporations along with our government take action. The waste we produce is also strongly tied to poverty and how majority of Filipinos cannot afford or sustain a “sustainable” lifestyle.

I know that as difficult as it is, our country can minimize waste production, but only when those in power actually work with us can make it happen. We have well-written laws, but the implementation is deeply flawed, so that’s something we will have to keep pushing to improve. We may not see those changes manifest in our lifetime, but at the end of the day, it’s not just about us and our personal comfort but our children and grandchildren who will have to bear the brunt of our shortcomings.

"One advice I can give is to fall in love with learning and find one thing about the environment that deeply resonates with you, then the rest will follow."
ABBY NG

Are there any other personal insights and experiences you would like to share with us?

 

Abby: There are a lot of conflicting opinions regarding individual action and collective action, and I think too many of those just talk about doing one or the other. There should always be a balance, and the ways we can protect our planet shouldn’t be dividing us. Make your lifestyle something that you can personally sustain, but also join the movement. Help us mobilize more advocates, and demand accountability from those in power. No action is too small, and no one is too young to take part.

The most important thing I learned along the way is to always find the connection. Everything is connected to our environment. There are social and racial injustices, as well as political issues, that contribute to everything we are experiencing now. We have to understand those connections in order to make effective solutions. One advice I can give is to fall in love with learning and find one thing about the environment that deeply resonates with you, then the rest will follow.