By Sen. Loren Legarda
Is the state of our environment defined by our behavior? Or is our behavior defined by our environment?
I ask this question because despite the abundance of laws, we continue to witness the unabated decline of our environment.
Environmental issues have been long-standing concerns in our country and even in the whole world. We have, in fact, numerous laws that deal with the environment, including the Philippine Environmental Code, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Renewable Energy Act, Environmental Awareness and Education Act, Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, and the People’s Survival Fund Law, among others.
These laws define the policies and programs to promote environmental protection. They offer incentives, both to investors that provide the technology and services, and to the communities or organizations that make use of these. Some of these laws date back to the 1970s, but 40 years hence, our environment seems to be in no better state.
It is unfortunate that many of life’s comforts happen at the expense of sustainability. We are living in a world with finite resources and yet generations have lived over the centuries like there is no tomorrow.
But nature has a way of reminding man of the repercussions of the savage abuse of the natural environment. We had been issued our fair share of warnings.
In July 2000, a mountain of garbage in the open dumpsite in Payatas collapsed, burying hundreds of people. In 2004, mudslides uprooted logs, wrecked homes, and killed thousands in the Province of Quezon. In 2009, Metro Manila came to a standstill after almost every city in the metropolis experienced flooding at record-breaking levels brought by Typhoon Ondoy; and in 2013, Super typhoon Yolanda decimated entire towns in the Visayas.
These are just a few of the many natural hazards—incessant rains and intense typhoons—that have turned into disasters because of environmental degradation. While people are becoming more aware of these threats, we all need to do more. Awareness must be translated into urgent action.
A 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, “The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the Future of Plastics,” showed that the world produced 20 times more plastic in 2014, about 311 million tons, than it did in 1964 at only 15 million tons. At this rate, oceans are expected to contain more plastic than fish by the year 2050.
Moreover, according to Ocean Conservancy, the Philippines is one of the top contributors of plastic trash dumped into the sea. Together with China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, it spewed out as much as 60 percent of the plastic waste that enters the world’s seas.
Plastic bags are ubiquitous components of the world’s consumer culture. They symbolize the throwaway culture we have developed.
We all need to understand that there is a price to comfort, safety, and convenience. If we want to live, and not just merely survive, we have to start examining our lifestyle.
Adopting an Eco-Friendly Lifestyle
After almost two decades as a legislator, I will be the first to say that while laws are important, our individual commitment and uncompromising attitude to promote the broader good ultimately define the outcomes of our advocacy.
This is my own experience:
A few years ago, I started introducing physical changes in my office because I wanted to transform it into a common open space conducive to interaction, and to demonstrate that environmental upkeep starts with our homes and offices.
To achieve this, I had all the cubicles removed, and in their place, I placed a long table constructed out of discarded pallets of solar panels. I took out the steel cabinets, and in their place now are old wood and antique Capiz windows to cover the compartments—illustrating that recycling builds, rather than destroys. We had all the office lights changed to LED, same as what I did in my home.
In compliance with the Ecological Solid Waste Management (ESWM) Law, which I principally authored and sponsored, I strictly implement waste segregation both in my home and office. We have four garbage bins in the office pantry that are properly marked to guide the staff in segregation—one for recyclable waste, such as tin cans and plastic bottles; a second trash bin for residual or those that cannot be recycled like plastic wrapper; another for biodegradable waste; and a fourth trash bin for food waste, which will be used to make organic compost. Around the workspaces of the staff are several baskets where used papers are placed flat so that the back page can be reused and later on recycled.
Recently, I prohibited bottled water and the use of disposable cups and straws during committee hearings in the Senate to reduce waste. Instead, purified water in dispenser and glassware are available for the guests, and they are encouraged to bring their own refillable water bottles.
I also plant what I eat. I grow vegetables and fruits in my backyard garden and in my small farm using organic compost from food waste and dried leaves. I built my own rainwater catchment using recycled and indigenous materials. The captured water is piped back to the house for all domestic use, including irrigation of the organic garden.
Wherever I go, I always bring my own water in refillable bottles and eco-bags for stuff that I need to buy.
Starting Small and Simple
Apart from practicing waste segregation at source and recycling, there are other simple ways that we can gradually adopt toward an eco-friendly lifestyle.
We have to be mindful of what we eat. We should eat more local, plant-based food. It has been estimated that 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions are associated with meat consumption, and food that comes from distant places utilizes more energy for transportation and preservation, therefore resulting in greater carbon emission.
Families can plant vegetables in their backyards or community vacant lots. This way, we do not only provide food on the table, but also address the nutritional needs of our children.
We must conserve energy. Traditional energy conservation measures remain relevant—use low-wattage appliances, turn off and unplug electronics when not in use, turn off lights when leaving a room, open curtains for natural lighting, do all the ironing at one time, avoid frequent opening of the refrigerator door and defrost it once a week, and other similar practices.
We must conserve water. In our homes, we should adopt conservation practices like gathering and storing rainwater for daily chores. Turn off faucets properly. Leaking pipes and running toilets should be repaired immediately. In the community, water recycling facilities and rain collection systems can be built.
We should always consider energy- and cost-efficient transport modes like walking, biking, taking public transport, and carpooling, whenever possible.
Make our homes as green as possible. A green building design would maximize the use of natural light and wind flow, utilize passive solar heating, provide for rainwater catchment system, and use recycled materials. Moreover, we can build chairs, tables, cabinets, and other fixtures using recycled wood instead of buying new and expensive materials.
These are just some ways by which we can make environmental protection part of our daily living. Many of these can immediately be practiced as soon as today. It only requires both individual and collective effort.
We are all stewards of the Earth and we must embrace that responsibility.
It is said that a great movement may be born in the minds of a few, but it must be spoken by the mouths of many, and must be carried on the shoulders of all—of every woman, man, and child. Indeed, small actions help create big impacts, but these actions need to start from each one of us.
Sen. Loren Legarda is a three-term senator who has authored landmark laws on environmental protection, disaster risk management, and climate resilience. She chairs the Senate Committees on Finance, Foreign Relations, and Climate Change. Her inspiring advocacy has earned her global recognition. She was named as among the Global Leaders for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum in 2000. She is also a Laureate and among the Global 500 Roll of Honor of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and was appointed by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) as its Global Champion for Resilience.
Tags: Clean Water Act, Climate Change Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management, environmental awareness, Loren Legarda, Ocean Conservancy, Philippine Environmental Code, Renewable Energy Act, Small baby steps for the environment, Solid Waste Management, typhoon Ondoy
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