WE CELEBRATE our culture and community spirit in festivals and fiestas. We dance, we sing, we are merry in the company of our family, friends and guests. There are things that bind us, especially for Filipinos, including Negrenses. These are mostly our traditions of street parties and dances.

People come together to join in the fun and make deeper connections that allow life to be colorful. We bask in the collective energy of our local festivals because it’s part of our cultural identity.

In the same spirit of Bayanihan that makes these celebrations possible, do we also work together to clean up after the party? Do we care about the trash generated by our festivities when the music stops? Oftentimes we think that we’ve done our part when we’ve thrown our waste into the “proper bins,” packed in garbage bags for the collectors to take away.

But of course a quick investigation on where our waste goes will let us see that we are not exactly relieved of responsibility.

On a regular day, the day population of Bacolod City reaches 1 million people (night population being half of that). The MassKara weekend will definitely double this number, if not more. Imagine the amount of waste we will all generate in the next several days. Even before the festival, we’ve put up all those plastic banderitas. I cringe at the idea that these will scatter and clog street sewers.

This is of course not unique to Bacolod’s MassKara. Everywhere we go that has a festival surely will be a source of waste. Balloons, confetti, sky lanterns, fireworks, PET water bottles, souvenirs wrapped in plastic, and plastic straws are just several kinds of party props that we will see during big celebrations, and everywhere on the streets the mornings after.

To be concerned about this matter may be perceived as being “killjoy,” or being a spoilsport/party pooper. But there are people who care and question not our celebrations, but the way we celebrate. It is a question posed to all of us – not just the government or event organizers. It is for all of us to engage and collaborate for solutions and alternatives.

What ideas do you have to reduce waste (especially plastic) during a festival or fiesta?

My colleagues in environmental advocacy, I will start this experiment for the MassKara weekend in Bacolod: In social media we will invite people to post photos, videos, and tweets of their IDEAS and ACTIONS to reduce, recycle or properly dispose trash from parties, events or festivities, and track them with the hashtag #NotWasted.

To start the ball rolling, here are some common things we can do as individuals. Refuse plastic straws, plastic bags and disposable utensils.

Bring your own tumbler and plan where to find a water refill. Avoid PET or plastic bottles for your water or other drinks. Always bring a folded eco-bag in case you’ll need it when buying stuff. Don’t buy food or drinks from styrofoam containers or cups. And yes, throw trash in their proper bins. Never, ever just ditch trash at the curb of the street – it’s a crime!

In the community and government level, here are the collaborative actions we need to explore and plan for. Organize community/barangay members to enforce waste management policies. Review and act on plastic bans (Bacolod has an ordinance, right?).

Engage business owners who feel that it’s more convenient to use disposables in big festivals – convenient for them, but are they contributing a separate fee to manage their waste? If not managed well, the waste becomes inconvenient to all businesses getting affected by floods or other negative consequences of trash.

Make a concrete plan on how and where trash will be collected after the festival. Bacolod City has started campaigning and implementing the “no segregation, no collection” policy in select communities last September and the rest of the city will soon follow suit. Is there hope to segregate trash from MassKara?

There is a lot to do, and it’s not just a simple checklist, but I believe collaboration is key, and I (we) look forward to opportunities to work with local governments to improve solid waste management in our homes and communities.

And I know it’s too late to talk about those plastic banderitas all over the city, but about the brands that sponsored them – do they really want to be seen their logos on plastic trash lying around in the city? I wonder if they themselves will collect and manage those single-use banderitas (can they be recycled?) and also let us all know their ideas and actions as #NotWasted.

One day, a critical mass of our population will be truly aware that most of the things we use to celebrate just get wasted, and the best way to deal with trash is to reduce/discontinue traditions that produce waste.

As Delphine Levi-Alvares of Zero Waste Europe said in a Cleanup and Audit activity in Negros last September: “When we go home to a flooded apartment caused by an open tap, we close the tap first before cleaning up the mess. The same should be done with the problem of waste. But the solutions we are given are about cleaning up the mess, instead of closing the tap.”