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?
The native goat is a bit smaller in size, however the farm I visited is cross-breeding it with a larger imported variety to produce hybrid goats.
Filipino spinach is very different than American spinach. While there are several tropical spinach varieties, none are very common where I live.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Consider reusing plastic bottles to plant vegetables. Here we planted some pechay, a leafy green. Once the plants get too big for the containers they are transplanted.
The African Night Crawler worm is an ideal decomposer because it has a huge appetite for breaking down organic waste. This species can produce 3 cocoons with 2-15 new baby worms per week and thus it can double its volume in 90 days.
How do you reuse waste and also benefit the community? Before leaving Sabang, we helped to improve the community park including adding a tetherball, painting the swings and playground, and building two park benches. These benches contain a total of 153 plastic bottles stuffed with approximately 45,900 pieces of trash including newspaper, cardboard, plastic wrappers, magazines, shampoo wrappers, even a shoe. The bottles were collected by the community and trash was both donated from households and collected off of the beach. Local school children worked hard to stuff all of the bottles, while adult community members assisted with the building of the benches. Everyone enjoyed stamping their handprints on our finished product. Consider building a bottle bench in your own community!
One of our projects as trainees was to host a Youth Camp for the advanced science students of the local high school. Thus last Saturday, we had 7 different teams of high school students, each equipped with a Peace Corps counselor and fancy marine science name tags. Our teams rotated between various stations including coral, seagrass and mangrove ecology, climate change, waste management, fish anatomy and the invertebrate taxonomy class that I co-instructed. The camp content was reminiscent of the curriculum at regularly taught at MarineLab, however species were Pacific-specific and added in several games and the ever-important meryenda (snack) to our program. For my invertebrate lab, I woke up at 5am to go snorkeling and collect urchins, sea stars, crabs, cowries, snails, sea cucumbers and sponges for students to look at. The students were already familiar with the major marine phyla and worked to sort our sample critters accordingly as they learned the common characteristics of each major phylum.