Saturday, May 5, 2012

Every breath you take

As the vendor was putting the bundles of pechay and watercress I bought in plastic bags at the market a few days ago, I told her: “Manang, huwag niyo na pong i-plastic.” Then seeing the bayong I was carrying, she quipped, “ay ayaw niyo ng plastic. Siguro taga Irisan kayo, ‘no?”

And there lies the reason why most of us remain apathetic to environmental issues and concerns – until something affects us directly, personally, that's the only time we start caring.

The vendor was of course referring to the efforts of the residents of Irisan to minimize, if not totally stop the use of disposable plastic bags. This was an offshoot of the trash-slide last year that claimed lives and property when garbage came rushing down the hill at the height of a particularly heavy downpour. Visiting the site of the Irisan tragedy soon after, I can’t help but notice that plastics made up a major part of the debris that buried people and homes.

On my way home, I made quick, basic mental calculations. I bought a kilo of fish, a kilo of beef and a kilo of chicken. What they usually do at the market is to put your meat purchase in a clear plastic bag, then put that bag again in what they call a “plastic sando bag.” By refusing the sando bags, I was able to keep three plastic bags out of our trash bin. I bought a bundle each of pechay and watercress. That’s two plastic bags. A bunch of pandan - one plastic bag. Fruits – one plastic bag.

Not much, one might say. Eight plastic bags. But imagine this: there were thousands of at the market that afternoon. If only one thousand did the same, we could’ve prevented the use of eight thousand plastic bags. Add to that another thousand each durig the morning and lunch rush hours and in one day, that would have been 24,000 plastic bags.

That’s 720,000 plastic bags a month, and 8.64 million plastic bags in one year. That’s just at the city market. And that’s a very conservative estimate.

In one year, a thousand people out of the almost half a million living here in Baguio today could’ve kept 8.64 million plastic bags out of the Irisan dumpsite.

The Irisan tragedy occured because of a combination of several factors, and among these are a corrupt political system and apathy. It was the former that prevented Baguio City from complying with the RA 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001. And it is that non-compliance that brought us to this crisis. And when the City Government, belatedly, tried to address the problem, people’s apathy reared its ugly head. Not everybody heeded the call, the plea, to reduce, reuse, recycle and segregate whatever garbage is left for the City Government to collect.

Why? Because most of us still believe that our individual actions cannot possibly affect the whole community, the whole city, the whole country – the world. What’s one household that didn’t segregate their trash out of hundreds in the neighborhood? Some of us might think. What’s one smoke-belching car out of the hundreds along Session Road? What’s a couple of plastic bags out of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands used in the city everyday?

And as SM City Baguio’s apologists would like to us to think, what’s 182 trees out of the hundreds of thousands we have in the city?

We can wait for something like the Irisan tragedy to happen before acting, or we can do our share in preventing something like it from happening in the first place. That is what the protest movement against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan is basically about.

We are all part of a bigger community. Every breath we take changes the composition of the whole universe.

To the vendor at the market, I can only reply with, “Hindi po ako taga-Irisan, pero taga-Baguio pa rin po.”

*my column in the May 6, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

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