Plastics, plastics everywhere

Piles of garbage in the evening
People in business districts around Manila will notice this, especially those who work and get off on late evenings.

Bags upon bags of garbage are lined up on sidewalks, their stink floating through the air. Employees going home would rather walk on the road just to avoid the stench sticking to their clothes.
Just imagine — this much garbage is produced by one building, home to different companies, hotels, and condominiums. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Daily. And try to estimate the number of buildings in, say,

Ortigas Center alone. Thirty? Forty?

And across Manila, we also have other CBDs, like Bonficaio Global City, Makati, Rockwell, Vertis North, etc. All generating this much dump every single day (night), for pretty much the entire year.

Try to estimate the proportion of plastics that goes into each black garbage bag. Twenty-five percent? Fifty? Seventy-five percent? All ranging from disposable spoons and forks, (most employees buy their lunch elsewhere), plastic bags, candy wrappers, medicine foil packs, plastic labelling of sports drinks, fruits’ styrofoam webbing, sachets, packing tape, etc.

No wonder that the Philippines turns out to be one of the worst polluters of plastic in the world! And these plastics, from our garbage bins, make their way into dumpsites, or otherwise float down our canals and all the way to bigger bodies of water like lakes, bays, and oceans. (ever heard of the Pacific trash vortex? Go, google it.)

And plastic, regardless of whether it’s the thick one or the thin one, or whether it’s non-biodegradable or what some others claim to be “oxo-degradable”, all of them, will NOT break down soon. (Don’t feel good just because some product you see claims their packaging is “green” — that’s a lie!) They will just continue floating and floating on the oceans, some of them in very, very miniscule sizes, ready to be eaten by plankton, then to be eaten by fish and other animals, all the way back to us through the food (seafood) that we eat. It’s the modern version of the saying “ang basurang itinapon mo, babalik sa iyo” (the trash that you throw away will eventually find its way back to you).

Albatross at Midway Atoll Refuge

Albatross at Midway Atoll Refuge, by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters licensed under CC BY 2.0

This is a very bleak truth, admittedly. But rather than wallow in this fact, can we ask ourselves — what can we do about it?

As kids, we have been taught the “Three R‘s”: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. There’s one more — Refuse. And in particular, we can start with plastic waste. It is definitely going to be a bit more hassle wanting to carry reusable kubyertos and straws around, but that can be a start (especially when you seriously think of what happens to the disposable versions described above). Those really small pieces of plastic that your drugstore gives you to “wrap” the medicine you bought? Can you really reuse them afterward? Seriously? Why not just tell the phamacist, you just need the receipt, forgo the plastic, and chuck them inside your bag (or pocket). There’s a lot of hassle involved in wanting to “go green”, but it doesn’t have to be so much of a hassle that you’d rather live in a more plastic-filled world than you and everyone else can afford.

But then again, admittedly, there are items you still cannot avoid getting in plastic. Change takes small steps, not drastic ones. Especially here in the Philippines where incinerating non-biodegradable materials is not allowed with our existing laws. What to do with them now?

Enter ecobricks

I first read about ecobricks around two years ago. There is this non-government organization (NGO) that started promoting it as a temporary way of dealing with plastics. Instead of using concrete hollow blocks as building material, they promote the use of ecobricks as alternative filling material.

Two plastic bottles serving as ecobricks
I personally prefer the sports drink bottles with wide mouths — that way, it’s easier to put stuff in and compress them.


Ecobricks are basically plastic bottles that are fully-filled up with clean, dry plastic material such that they are as compact as possible. Making them usually involves 350-, 500-, 1000-, or 1500-mL bottles. Rows upon rows of plastic bottles are lined up on-site in between wire meshes, and cement is then applied to cover them up. It’s been said that they are as good as hollow blocks, and cheaper too, what with the plastics being used — which would have just ended up on landfills had they not been used instead.

Chucking all of these small, dry refuse into ecobricks was definitely a hassle when I first tried it out. You really have to establish it as a habit so you can fill it up with your plastic instead of them getting included in your daily garbage bag for collecting.

We’ve been doing this at home, and I’m maintaining my own ecobrick bottle at the office too, hoping others would soon follow. I notice that mostly, these items make their way into the ecobrick:

  • old plastic bags (which have been reused a couple of times);
  • candy wrappers
  • foil wrappers (i.e., that creamer you used from your favorite fastfood shop)
  • multivitamin wrappers
  • discarded zip ties (yes, definitely a hassle but again, think what happens to this if it just remains in a dumpsite?)
  • styrofoam webbings usually encasing fruits (probably should start avoiding brands that use these to begin with)
  • packing tape (boxes are usually wrapped in them)
  • shampoo sachets
  • other common stuff you find at home/office

When we started at home, we realized that when we got into the rhythm of ecobricking, we got to more than halve the garbage output! We used to dispose two plastic bag’s worth of trash every night, and eventually, with ecobricks, that only became one bag every other day! Not to mention that we further cut down on trash because we’ve been doing composting at home for two years now!

Ecobricks of different sizes

And surprisingly, if we count the number of fully-filled ecobricks we have thus far, I think it’s nearly a dozen since we started. It takes time to fully-fill an ecobrick — and there lies the irony. The goal of ecobricking is this: The less ecobricks you generate, the better. This means that you are already catching up on using less plastic overall, and that’s not a bad thing!

Hopefully, people get to start this habit more and more. There are a handful of local organizations that accept fully-filled ecobricks for various purposes. Each of us can make a difference by donating ecobricks to them.

Plastic has been around us for a century now, and will continue to be. While it remains to be a problem how to really dispose of them properly (and for good), we should at least do our part to reduce and refuse them.

Happy ecobricking!