DEVELOPMENT: Filipino Communities Turn Trash Into Cash

  • by Ana Puod* - IPS/IFEJ (taguig city, philippines)
  • Tuesday, December 29, 2009
  • Inter Press Service

In Barangay (translated as ‘village’) Lower Bicutan, in Taguig City, located 15 kilometres east of Manila, the ubiquitous holiday decorations are a testament to a never-say-die spirit and ingenuity. They are mostly fashioned out of water lilies that clog the town’s drainage system instead of the conventional bamboo sticks, Japanese and crepe paper that have come to be associated with the iconic symbol of the Filipino Christmas.

Taguig City outlines Laguna de Bay, one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia and the Philippines’ largest inland body of water. Water lilies are known to thrive in such bodies of water, growing to a height of 40 inches and multiplying fast. Thus they can easily displace local aquatic plants and adversely affect water quality and flow.

When Typhoon Ketsana unleashed its wrath in late September, the village of approximately 44,000 residents found itself submerged in water as did other parts of the city. 'We are so used to flooding, but ‘Ondoy’ (local name of the typhoon) was different,' says resident Lolita Remillo, adding that many of her 'kababayan’ (fellowmen) died.'

Water lilies were deemed among the culprits behind Taguig’s submergence in floodwater.

But city councilor Gigi de Mesa sees a bright side to this otherwise tragic event. 'The flooding even pushed the water lily nearer to the shore. This even made it easier for us to collect water lilies.'

Just a month before Ketsana hit the country, the city government launched the Water Lily Livelihood Project, which aimed to provide a source of income for the communities in the city, particularly women, while clearing Laguna de Bay of water lilies.

'The primary purpose of the project is to generate livelihood among the people of Taguig City, especially women,' says Kaye Tinga, wife of city mayor Fred Tinga.

The project involves collecting the nuisance aquatic plants and turning them into useful products. 'We are not only creating jobs but helping the environment as well,' reasons de Mesa, one of the organisers of the project that has turned into a cooperative.

Through the training spearheaded by Kaye Tinga, community members learned how to weave products like bags, place mats, slippers and Christmas decors like lantern and wreaths out of water lilies.

Some 200 people were initially trained, followed by another batch of 800, who were then taught about various aspects of the livelihood project.

The recycling process is straightforward. Upon harvest, the plants are dried under the sun and then cured and dyed before they are woven into craft articles. A certain level of inventory of processed water lilies is maintained to ensure a steady supply of raw materials and enable the project proponents to determine the volume of orders that can be realistically accepted.

Daily gross sales average 10,000 pesos (217 U.S. dollars). At the onset of this year's Christmas season, orders began to increase. This enabled the workers to earn an average of 2,000 to 3,000 pesos (44 to 65 dollars) each a week.

Taguig City is not alone in its efforts to make something useful out of otherwise environmental hazards. Not too far from Taguig is Pasig City—some 12 km east of Manila—which was similarly inundated by floodwaters at the height of Typhoon Ketsana.

A community-based multi-purpose cooperative in Barangay Ugong, one of numerous villages comprising the city, collects and recycles used juice plastic pouches as part of its campaign to recycle non-biodegradable products into colorful handbags, slippers, cellular phone cases, umbrellas and other items.

'It started when we visited a dumpsite. We saw that they were burning rolls of doy packs from the factories,' recounts Editha Santiago, founder of KILUS Foundation, which stands for Women United for the Nation’s Progress. 'We remembered our own collection of used doy packs. We thought we could come up with something. That kind of garbage should not be burned.'

The foundation, which was organised in 1999 as an all-women group, approached several doy pack manufacturers asking them to buy its collection of used doy packs, but only one of them agreed. Big multinational companies turned it down.

'That’s when we intensified our drive to collect doy packs, the packaging of which is colorful and sturdy, so we thought hard about what to make out of them,' explains Santiago. Members of the foundation regularly visited nearby barangays or villages in the city, including funeral homes, churches and schools, to buy used juice packs for 20 centavos each (or less than 1 U.S. cent).

In 2000, KILUS launched its own line of doy bags.

When the project started, it sold only a few items, mostly to the members’ families and friends. But word soon spread in nearby towns and cities about the ingenious recycled products. Soon KILUS was deluged with orders, prompting it to expand its production to seven other villages within the city.

The cooperative’s membership base has expanded to include entire families, including children. Around five percent of current members are males, says Santiago.

KILUS has been featured both in local and international media like BBC and CNN. Its products have graced international publications such as the U.S.’s ‘Teen Vogue’, Britain’s ‘The Observer’ and those in Japan.

The global campaign against climate change has generated greater interest in its products, particularly abroad. Bulk orders are from Europe and Japan, with more regular orders coming in from the United States. The largest U.S book retailer Barnes & Noble is its latest addition to its international clientele.

'Since last year we have made six shipments of 20-foot container (vans) to them (Barnes & Noble). I think they sell our tote bags at 16.95 U.S. dollars each,' says Santiago.

In the aftermath of typhoons Ketsana and Parma, says Santigao, they got even more orders from their foreign clients.

What started out as a small community undertaking is now a profitable cottage industry that has been a steady source of income for some 50,000 residents of Pasig.

Tears welling up in her eyes, Santiago says one worker was able to construct a toilet in her house using her earnings. KILUS members can generate as much as 8,000 pesos (174 dollars) monthly during peak seasons.

Clara Buctuan, another member, says she joined the cooperative to augment her husband’s income as a tricycle driver. Her monthly earnings of 6,000 pesos (130 dollars) allow her to send their two children to school and help with other household expenses.

Joining the foundation helped her in other ways. 'I gained self-confidence,' she says. The self-proclaimed environmentalist adds that she also takes pride in being able to help the environment.

Since it started, KILUS has recycled 90 tonnes of doy packs into commercial items, including bags.

The water lily lanterns still hanging on residential windows in Taguig and the doy fashion bags produced in Pasig are a constant reminder to their residents that there is money in trash. Sound environmental practices, they say, make good business sense.

*This story is part of a series of features on sustainable development by IPS — Inter Press Service and IFEJ — International Federation of Environmental Journalists, for the Alliance of Communicators for Sustainable Development (www.complusalliance.org).

© Inter Press Service (2009) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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