How long does it take for trash to breakdown? Here are the estimates I tell school children when teaching about solid waste management:
- Apple core (1-2 weeks)
- Paper (2-4 weeks)
- Clothing (1-5 months)
- Wooden furniture (1-4 years)
- Tin/Steel Can (100 years)
- Aluminum can (200-500 years)
- Plastic bottle (500-1000 years)
- Glass jar (over 1000 years or never)
Reduce, reuse, and recycle! Some great practices are in place here already, such as a plastic ban at our local market, requiring that shoppers bring their own reusable shopping bags. However this policy depends on which stand you go to because some vendors will place your vegetables in plastic even while telling you that it is bawal (illegal).
The greatest success I have seen is in recycling of glass bottles. All local corner stores require that if they sell you a gatorade (yes, I buy gatorade in a glass bottle here!) you return that very bottle back to their store. The merchant must then return the bottles to the stocking company which refills them time and time again. Cash incentives for this bottle return mean that some merchants will even knock on your door asking for the bottle back if you do not follow through.
The biggest problem with solid waste management is an omnipresent mindset that trash can just be thrown on the ground, in the gutter, or out the window. Most recently, I was riding on a small banka (boat) and noticed a fellow passenger’s snack wrapper floating off into the waves. “Sayang” (“What a pity!”) I said.
“No it’s okay,” he replied. “It was empty.”
This mentality is really hard to break. When you see chips bags and styrofoam containers lying on the ground already, trying to convince someone to instead look for the sometimes scarce trash can to toss their empty candy wrapper seems impossible. And yet we environmental volunteers try. This summer (March-May is summer in the Philippines) I will be assisting with a kids camp designed to teach proper trash disposal, composting, and the 3Rs. The camp will coincide with new waste disposal bins and a community coastal clean up.
Finding places to put our waste is a global problem. (Last year I heard on the news that Canada was exporting its trash to the Philippines sparking local Filipino outrage.) Reduce, reuse, recycle is the best solution! Where can you apply the 3Rs in your daily life?