Grassroots zero-waste initiatives fuel sustainability movement in Asia Pacific

Quezon City — Grassroots zero-waste initiatives are fueling the sustainability movement in Asia Pacific as they help micro, small, and medium enterprises and consumers minimize plastic pollution and shift to sustainable alternatives.


This was discussed during the ninth episode of The Climate Reality Project Philippines’ Klimatotohanan webcast series, a fortnightly Facebook webcast that features conversations and discussions about climate governance, science, solutions, research, and other related topics.

“We have a lot of zero-waste communities in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia,” Sherma Benosa, Knowledge Management Officer of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, said  as she shared zero-waste models in Asia Pacific that could be replicated in the Philippines.

Benosa specifically mentioned the case of Kerola in India, which has introduced a decentralized system for waste management, which later resulted in a successful model where waste is neither burned nor buried. She shared that the state of Kerola has also introduced a Green Protocol, a regulation banning single-use plastics that has since been expanded to public events, such as festivals.

Benosa also cited businesses like Bring Me Home, a food rescue app based in Australia that enables consumers to buy unsold meals and other food items from restaurants, cafes, bakeries, and grocery stores at a significant discount; and BarePack, a subscription-based reusable and returnable container ecosystem for food takeaway and delivery across Singapore.

“Food waste is a resource in disguise. We only call it waste because we have not given ourselves a chance to see it for what it’s worth,”

Dave Albao, Executive Director of the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc., walked the audience through their Wala Usik initiative, which localizes the principles of a circular economy in the context of Negros Island. “Wala Usik” is a Hiligaynon phrase meaning “nothing is wasted.”

“How can we redesign the zero-waste store concept? How are we [going to] bring them to communities served by sari-sari stores? There are 800,000 stores [in the country]. Imagine just how much plastic sachet can be prevented if you transform a percentage of these sari-sari stores,” Albao said on the inspiration behind Wala Usik sari-sari stores.

Albao explained that the concept of Wala Usik is to sell fast-moving consumer goods in the same volume sold in single-use plastics but using reusable bottles. With the help of the United States Agency for International Development, their group designed sari-sari stores to use refillery to dispense products. They noted, however, that there are regulatory barriers to refilling. “We need to make refilling mainstream and accessible, and sanitary,” they said.

Climate change and environmental non-profit groups, including The Climate Reality Project Philippines, have started a petition two years ago for the Food and Drug Administration to enhance existing regulations to establish “safe, widely accessible refilling stations for cosmetics and household products.” Suggestions for enhancements include redefining refilling as an activity separate from manufacturing, defining refilling stations and their safety and sanitary requirements, and defining the minimum information that needs to be shown on refilled product labels and refilling stations.

Aside from sari-sari stores, Albao said that they are looking to expand the Wala Usik initiative to other business models, such as karenderyas and cafés. They also shared a menu of innovations for zero-waste and circular business ideas, which include shared reuse systems, native packaging, door-to-door or business-to-business central refilling systems, and micro-refillery.

Mother-daughter tandem and Climate Reality Leaders Rina and Dani Papio talked about how their social enterprise Green Space Pilipinas is helping households and businesses integrate composting into their daily lives and operations. “Food waste is a resource in disguise. We only call it waste because we have not given ourselves a chance to see it for what it’s worth,” the elder Papio said.

Green Space aims to divert food waste away from landfills through composting and soil regeneration. It provides consumers with alternative waste management solutions such as Bokashi composting tools, as well as composting workshops. For those who do not have enough household space, it also offers the Book-A-Bucket composting service, which enables consumers to have their food waste collected and composted for them. 

“Going zero-waste starts with baby steps,”

Climate Reality Leader Kate Mana-Galido, meanwhile, shared about Back to Basics Ecostore, a refillery and ecostore she co-founded in 2019 with her four other friends that aims to provide easy, affordable, and convenient access to household and personal care products without unnecessary packaging. She said that they are now working with more than 20 local brands and suppliers that wanted to be part of the zero-waste ecosystem.

Galido also shared the following zero-waste tips for consumers: (1) swap plastic toothbrushes with bamboo toothbrushes; (2) use washable cotton rounds instead of cotton balls or pads; (3) switch from bottles to bars; and (4) use produce bags instead of plastic bags. “Going zero-waste starts with baby steps,” she told consumers.

For more meaningful discussions about climate and sustainability solutions, watch the full episodes of Klimatotohanan here.