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When litter photobombs your Instagram

05:07 AM April 30, 2018

An abandoned and unfinished structure known as “The Ruins” in Santa Fe, Bantayan, is one of the island’s most famous tourist spots featuring a picturesque cliff set against the azure sea and sky.

In social media language, it’s a place very “Instagrammable.” Adrenaline junkies jump off the cliff into the sea below; others are content to sit on the edge to pose for a picture — that is, if they don’t mind garbage as photobomber.

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I was busily taking shots when I noticed something red in the corner of my phone screen. I looked up to check for a photobomber, and realized that it was a piece of trash lying on the ground. That was how The Ruins ruined my impression of an unspoiled island west of Cebu’s northern end.

With the six-month closure of Boracay, there is now a mad rush to look for alternative destinations to cater to international and domestic tourists. Surely we are spoiled for choice, with 7,641 islands beyond the usual Boracay-Palawan routes.

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It took my friends and me an entire day to reach Bantayan via air, land and sea. From the distance as the ferry was about to dock, the island’s white sands made everything look so pure and untouched.

But no matter how far or how difficult it is to reach any island, garbage — from PET bottles to junk food wrappers — still finds its way to ruin the environment. As many have warned, more tourists mean more garbage.

At The Ruins, visitors perhaps thought it was okay to leave their trash anywhere because there were no bins in sight. When I asked the young tourists why there was trash near where they were hanging out while enjoying the view, they looked at me as if to say, “It’s not our trash, so it’s none of our business.”

This garbage culture, which Cebu Daily News amplified in its editorial last April 1, ails most of us, whether we are vacationing on some exotic island or window-shopping in an air-conditioned mall.

“I always tell my customers to bring back empty bottles and trash here, but they usually don’t, so every day before I go home, I collect the trash they have left behind,” the woman at the makeshift snacks stall nearby said.

In 2016, photos of uncollected trash on Bantayan’s shorelines went viral on social media and earned criticism. Last year, it took eight hours for volunteers to haul away the garbage left by attendees of the 2nd Isla Music Fest in Santa Fe, the island’s gateway town where most of the resorts and restaurants are located.

The town has imposed tighter garbage regulations, including the arrest of anyone caught littering and canceled licenses for businesses that do not segregate trash.

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Entrepreneurs like Lyndon Tancinco have thus been compelled to find means to manage the garbage their businesses generate.

Tancinco has put up his own material recovery facility to handle the 50 kilograms of garbage that his restaurant produces daily.

But what about the others?

The problem is not only in Santa Fe. Bantayan and Madridejos, the island’s two other towns, had all sorts of trash on their beaches, including piles of discarded shells of scallops, one of the island’s main produce.

During my visit, I didn’t see anyone getting arrested for littering.

Boracay has forced us to confront the sordid and stinky aftereffects of tourism. And it is worrisome that local government units, particularly in underdeveloped municipalities, are not prepared to receive the influx of tourists who are looking for Boracay alternatives—and the consequences that come with it.

Are there road networks or accommodation facilities available, for instance? And more importantly, are there solid waste management and disposal systems that are in place? (In Santa Fe, the only open dump was ordered closed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in September 2017 due to overcapacity.)

Locals welcome the possibility of tourism booming in Bantayan; after all, more tourists mean more livelihood opportunities for them. Residents are confident that the island won’t go the way of Boracay, at least not for now.

Regardless, let’s not create another Boracay. Imagine multiplying the problem 7,000-plus times.

If only we can crop garbage from our environment, the way we crop unwanted photobombers from our Instagram photos. Let’s promote #ResponsibleTourism and put trash where it belongs—the bin. Let’s bear in mind that “only trash litters.”

* * *

Yasmin Lee Arpon works with the Opinion desk.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Instagram, litter, responsible tourism, The Ruins, waste management, Yasmin Lee Arpon
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