From plastic to profit: communities explore opportunities in recycling plastic waste

The typical day of Jade Sarah Joven Suren, 35, is busy. Together with other women of Barangay 412 in Sampaloc, Manila, mostly housewives and mothers, she spends the rest of her day at the barangay (village) daycare center making urban gardening pots out of PET bottles.

The process is long and meticulous. Suren and the women would start by removing the bottle labels, then wash them clean with powdered soap and bleach. After drying, they would cut the bottles in half and iron out the rough edges. Then they would punch holes and tie strings, turning what was previously trash into finished products called “super paso” (super pots). Every day, they make an average of 400 of these recycled plastic pots.

“We have another group in charge of collection, they drive around different barangays to collect plastic PET bottles from junk shops” shared Suren in Filipino. Every week, the group collects around 1,000-2,000 pieces of bottles, diverting an estimate of 50kg to100kg of plastic from sanitary landfills to be recycled into pots.

Members of Brgy. 412 Women Waste Warriors during plastic bottle collection

The “super paso” are picked up weekly to supply to an urban gardening program of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development. Weekly orders can go as high as 5,000 pots, giving the women like Suren a weekly take home money of around P300, on a really good week, as much as P1,000.

“Before, I use to just lay around the house and do house chores. Now, I am productive, I am able to earn a little even if I don’t have a job,” said the mother of one, who tries to augment her husband’s income as a cable TV agent and barangay secretary. “More than that, I learn new skills and get to enhance my knowledge. I also get to bond with other women in the community.”

‘Before’ refers to Suren’s life before becoming a member of Brgy. 412 Women Waste Warriors. 3Ws, the group’s nickname, is a community-based organization (CBO) whose mission is to promote proper waste management within their homes and community, and to explore alternative reduce, reuse, recycle (3Rs)-related livelihood projects.

3Ws was organized in early 2021 and was duly registered by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in June with the support of Healthy Oceans and Clean Cities Initiative (HOCCI), a project implemented by UN-Habitat and funded by the Government of Japan. HOCCI aims to strengthen government capacity in reducing marine plastic litter through the localization of the recently launched National Plan of Action on Marine Litter (NPOA-ML). HOCCI partners with the cities of Cagayan de Oro, Calapan, Davao, Legazpi, Manila, and Ormoc, working with different local stakeholders, in developing their respective City Plan of Action on Marine Litter (CPOA-ML) anchored on the NPOA-ML strategies.

Paleros, street sweepers, estero rangers, fisherfolks

3Ws is just one of the community based- and people’s groups being organized by HOCCI partner cities to support pilot 3Rs projects in their CPOA-MLs.

In Calapan City, garbage collectors or paleros are organizing themselves into Kabuhayan at Kalikasan para sa Maunlad na Palero, Inc. (KAKAMPI), with support from the City Environmental and Natural Resource Department and HOCCI. The group, composed of job order workers, sees the value of organizing; as a legal entity, they would have opportunities to get possible support such as funding and capacity building. They are also exploring livelihood projects that could provide resources the group can tap into, such as emergency funds for its members.

Their organization’s acronym, which translates to “ally”, is more than fitting as it describes the critical role garbage collectors play in municipal solid waste management, particularly in reducing plastic waste.

KAKAMPI during their hybrid strategic planning session

In the City of Manila, street sweepers, estero rangers, housewives, and village and youth council members are organizing themselves as Tagumpay Barangay. 83Zero Waste Association.

In the cities of Ormoc and Legazpi, CBOs and people’s organizations (POs) promoting 3Rs are also being formed. Solid Waste Association of Barangay Ipil (SWABI), Naungan Fisherfolks Association (NAFIAS), and Mas-Green Eco-Waste Pickers Association (MEPA) of Ormoc; and Legazpi City Recyclers Association, Dap-Dap Ecopreneurs Association, and Peñaranda Eco-Negosyo Association of Legazpi are undergoing a series of strategic planning workshops to guide the group in setting their mission and planned actions for the next three years.

Except Dap-Dap Ecoprenuers Association, who is already duly registered by DOLE, all groups are also completing their requirements for DOLE registration, with support from HOCCI.


Community, people at the heart of MPL reduction

While a definitive baseline study on marine plastic litter has yet to be carried out by the Philippine government, available data already point to the seriousness of the plastic problem in the country. According to a global study[1], even though the Philippines has among the highest trash collection rates in Southeast Asia, it has become the world’s third largest source of marine plastic litter. A national report in 2018 projected plastic waste generation to be about 1.75 MMT in the year 2020[2].

To address the MPL problem, HOCCI engages local stakeholders, including sectors represented by the POs and CBOs from the start of the project until the ongoing development of local action plans to ensure that their voices are heard. HOCCI supports and ensures social safeguards of, foremost the vulnerable groups, specifically the informal waste sector, and work with women and community groups.

3Ws is the first to set the wheels in motion; other groups are at various levels of capacity building on plastic 3Rs livelihood and entrepreneurship. By recycling plastic waste, HOCCI aims for members of the community to gain not just profit, but also a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

“I feel proud that as a simple homemaker, I am able to join other women in the community and help the environment. People often say that cleaning and segregating waste is a woman’s job. But we say – girl power! We are happy that different organizations appreciate what we can do – being meticulous and preserving. We realized, wow, we can be great. And we can do great things.”

Click here to know more about Healthy Oceans and Clean Cities.

[1] Jambeck et al, 2015; OC/McKinsey, 2015
[2] National State-of-the-Brown Environment Report 2008-2018, DENR, 2018
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Aligned with the planning process of local government units (LGUs), it captures the process of developing the City Plan of Action on Marine Litter (CPOA-ML) from creating the planning team, situational analysis and baselining, visioning, capacity development, action identification, until approval and adoption. It provides recommendations for enhancements of existing local policies and mainstreaming into other local plans.

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