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75 trucks

That’s how much garbage people left behind after the Black Nazarene procession in January. They can bring their food and drinks, but they can’t take the containers home.

I’m sure Christ would be horrified. This is a national disease. Everywhere you go there’s rubbish, there’s filth. There’s a cesspool. We have people, Christians no less, who couldn’t (let me be blunt) give a shit about their environment, and others.

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Wherever you go overseas, the first thing that strikes you is how clean the cities are. The first thing that strikes you as you exit Ninoy Aquino International Airport is how filthy Manila is.

But there are a few exceptions. Puerto Princesa is one I know of, and I’m sure there are a few more—“few” the operative word. A survey by the environmental group Greenpeace ranks the Philippines the “third-worst polluter of the world’s oceans” after China and Indonesia.

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If we do not change our ways, soon there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. That’s according to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who warned: “Every year, more than eight million tonnes [of plastic] end up in the oceans. If present trends continue, by 2050 our oceans will have more plastic than fish.”

Let’s start at school. If the parents don’t care about proper waste disposal, maybe the more idealistic and caring kids could be taught about it. But let’s not wait till they become responsible adults; let’s also not give up on the existing adults. Let’s turn them into responsible citizens now.

I wrote about this way back in 2012, and several times since, with no impact. In my May 19, 2016 column “A clean Philippines”, I said: “Declare a clean Philippines campaign”. There was no reaction—until now. Senate President Sotto has expressed great interest in the concept, and said he will suggest it for Quezon City to adopt as a model.

We could start a Cleanliness Program by doing what Rwanda did: have a “Clean Up Day”. We have far too many holidays, so adding another day off isn’t too desirable. But for a greater cause, it’s worth doing. Let’s have one day where everyone goes out to clean their neighborhood. It’s a dramatic way to get cleanliness into the mind of the public.

A key action that could result in major change is providing enough garbage bins—basurahan—around. Where are they? Even in malls, I have to search for them. Elsewhere, they just don’t exist. Companies will provide them freely, if they could put their ads on them. And let’s have a competition, too, for the most artistic ones. Give our poorly treated artists a little recognition.

Companies will bid aggressively to be the garbage collectors. And if Congress has any sense, it will reverse the poorly thought out Clean Air Act (RA 8749) and allow the use of incinerators, as long as the emissions are below internationally accepted limits. Properly designed incinerators can be clean. Let engineers design them, instead of politicians blocking them.

This newspaper’s editorial last week (June 21) raised the issue, too; maybe it’ll have more impact than I seem able to achieve. As it pointed out, all that trash—the equivalent of 400 truckloads in just one clean-up—also creates flooding. If you were stuck on EDSA last Friday, as I was for two hours unmoving, wouldn’t you demand people to stop clogging our waterways?

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But it’s not only the careless user who is culpable, it’s the supplier, too, as the editorial explained. Almost everything we buy today is in a plastic blister pack or sachet. Nestle has addressed this, not by moving to another product (that doesn’t readily exist) but by reusing the plastic. It shreds the material and makes it into, would you believe, hollow blocks that are said to be stronger than the rubbishy ones you buy here. (I can show you walls where the hollow block has disappeared, with only the cement poured into its holes remaining.)

You can send your empty sachets and buy hollow blocks from Green Antz, the social enterprise that is spearheading this recycling.

Let’s have a competition, with prizes. Filipinos love competitions and worship prizes. The cleanest barangay, the cleanest town, the cleanest city, the cleanest province will be recognized. Then an overall winner will be chosen. An annual gala night with prizes and videos and stars will be held. And the President will hand out the awards.

And let’s have families who are given conditional cash transfers spend a day or two a week to earn that handout by doing community service cleaning up and beautifying their community.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, isn’t it?

Email: [email protected]

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