Tackling waste in the Turtle Islands

Story and Photos by Beau Baconguis As the fishing boat I was on moved closer to Taganak Island, the seat of the Turtle Islands municipality, I marveled at the clear coastal waters. Of the six islands, I learned this was the most dense with a population of about five thousand. But as I disembarked, I started noticing plastic bags and other types of waste dotting the shoreline. This made my heart sink. I have been campaigning on the issue of pollution for almost two decades and I was disappointed to see that in the remotest part of the country, far from the crazy disposable culture of the Philippine urban centers, the plastic scourge exists and can also be as bad as in the cities. But then I forget how close the Islands are to Malaysia where they get most of their supplies including bottled water. IMG_7512 IMG_7484 The Turtle Conservation Society of the Philippines which has been helping the Turtle Islands for a number of years now, has already had previous consultations with the public school about waste. For this trip, one of the important objectives was to build a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) for the school which was completed in the week we were there. In addition, a recently established women’s organization in Taganak started developing products like wallets, keychains and bracelets from plastic wastes. But this addresses a very small portion of the waste problem. IMG_7523 IMG_8197 And it is not only solid waste that is a problem in the Turtle Islands. The lack of proper toilets and biological waste treatment in any of the islands is slowly contaminating their shallow groundwater wells and marine waters. Diarrhea is a common ailment. There have also been recently reported cases of cholera. IMG_8333 The issue of waste can be addressed through values education, reduction, segregation, reuse, recycling and redesign. Composting already takes out 50-70% of the waste from the waste stream and can be used to support land-based food production on the islands while reducing the main source of water contamination. More importantly, it needs strong leadership and active community participation so that their islands do not become inundated with wastes. Beau Baconguis is a board member of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities.