Tuesday, 16 Apr 2002

QUEZON CITY, Philippines

All my life, I have lived in the city of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. It was only recently, when I started traveling to far-flung places as part of my nonprofit work, that I realized just how bad the pollution is in our city. Some of the places that I’ve visited are so remote and unpopulated that they seldom see out-of-towners. In these places, the air is crisp and fresh, the beaches are pristine, and the rivers are crystal-clear and sweet to the taste. Naturally, there’s no garbage problem at all.

Heading from such places back to Manila, a bustling city of 8 million people, I’m always struck by the start contrast — the strong stench of burning trash and the permanent haze of smog that envelopes the city. The root cause of the city’s garbage problem can be traced to the bad habits of its people. The Filipino “throw-away” mentality has produced an ecological and health disaster far worse than the U.S. anthrax scare. Over the years, our citizens have experienced a rapid decline in air and water quality. It is no wonder that Manila easily qualifies as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

Down in the dumps.

The town of San Juan, where we’re coordinating Earth Day events, has a burgeoning garbage problem, too. The impact is not clearly felt yet, because there are many open fields far from sight where the garbage can be dumped. To help draw attention to the problem, we have decided to design at least two Earth Day activities that will help educate people on proper solid waste disposal and management.

I spend most of today working with James, a volunteer who is helping design a series of illustrations depicting the path that a piece of plastic packaging takes from the time it is carelessly discarded till it finds its way into a dump or the open sea. Aptly titled “Plastic, Plastic, Where Do You Go?”, this activity will hopefully inspire and educate young people about the consequences of littering. We also plan to design a trash-segregation relay race for older participants.

The garbage crisis in the Philippines, as in the rest of the world, is undeniably caused by people. We at Happy Earth, being educators, believe in the potential for human beings to change for the better: There is always room for hope. It is this hope that makes us certain that just as the garbage problem was created by people, it can be solved by people.