YOU might have seen videos on social media featuring people who gather their entire year’s waste into a small glass jar. You might have heard of the phrase “zero waste” and asked how possible is it for someone to live without generating any trash.

Even those putting their trash in a jar or bottle still can’t bring down their waste to an absolute zero. So why zero waste?

The Philippines celebrates January of every year as Zero Waste Month declared by Proclamation No. 706 signed by then President Benigno Aquino III on May 5, 2014.

Needless to say, our country has a long way to go in terms of waste management. No blaming the government, even if an overwhelming majority of cities and towns still haven’t set up proper sanitary landfills due to “financial challenges.”

I put those in quotation marks because in the long term, we know that government spending on waste management still increases if political will is not employed to deal with waste. We allow dumpsites to continue despite it being illegal 18 years after the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was signed into law in 2000.

No blaming the government because the long journey to proper solid waste management is not exclusively on our elected leaders’ hands (as they may be too occupied with what are considered “bigger issues” in politics).

Waste comes from all of us – people from all political beliefs, including environmentalists and yes, zero-wasters. And beach cleanups aside, have we yet rolled our sleeves and collectively taken action to clean up garbage from our cities and towns’ waterways and sidewalks?

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“We can and we will make a difference.” This is a mantra from my friends Kathleen Salimbagat and Angel Rodriguez who I co-founded Hamsa Earth-Conscious Collections with.

We wanted to nurture a community for reusables, believing that a number of people, starting from three of us, then 50 to 100 in our networks, and perhaps to a small percentage out of the one million daytime population in Bacolod City, refusing single-use plastic in daily life will ultimately add up and significantly reduce plastic waste.

We have been asked many times: “Will it matter?” Of course, it will! One plastic bag refused by one person every day will matter. And it’s not just the decrease of the actual material consumption that makes sense – but this perspective and attitude having the potential to shape consumer demands and the businesses that serve them. Even malls now have a No-Plastic Day and generally have options for reusable bags.

Sure, there is a lot of debate on policies like banning plastic bags or straws, and campaigns to segregate, compost and recycle from the households still need to show results.

We should never stop having those conversations – in the local government council level, inside our schools and offices, with our families and friends.

A deep contemplation into garbage – how we produce and dispose of them – will make us see that waste management is not an item on checklists, but it is an underlying theme behind socio-economic issues, public health, food security, disaster risk reduction, commerce, and even human rights.

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Filipinos’ consciousness on waste has immensely grown. We need to know that local governments, schools, youth groups, non-government organizations and businesses in the country have already begun transforming communities towards “zero waste.”

Last week, on 16 January, I and a colleague from the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI), Kim Casipe, attended the Zero Waste Youth Convergence held at Foundation University in Dumaguete City, and organized by Mother Earth Foundation (through their program Zero Waste Youth Pilipinas), Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), and War on Waste-Negros Oriental.

The event brought together inspiring leaders in the zero-waste movement: Froilan Grate (president of Mother Earth Foundation), Sonia Mendoza (MEF chair), Hon. Benedict Jasper Lagman (councilor of San Fernando, Pampanga), Merci Ferrer (co-founder of War on Waste-Negros Oriental), Rap Villavicencio (MEF program manager), Jann Manalese (president of Zero-Waste Youth Pilipinas), Merviel Rosario (youth representative in San Fernando’s Solid Waste Management Board), Khate Nolasco (barangay kagawad from Potrero, Malabon, and founder of Potrero United Youth Organization), and Miguel Teves (the nine-year-old behind the initative Plastic-Free Duma).

Listening to these advocates’ journeys towards Zero Waste made the young audience there realize that we have a choice to share a cleaner future.

We can and we will make a difference, through each one plastic bottle or bag or straw refused. What it takes is to realize that Zero Waste is not about producing zero trash, but that Zero Waste is about not wasting anything – to make use of everything as an expression of value.

“Walang aksaya” or “wala’y usik” is what zero waste truly means, as Froilan of Mother Earth Foundation beautifully put it.

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One more zero waste story this month is Hamsa’s travel to Guimbal, Iloilo, with Johannes Maquiling of the Philippine Science High School.

“Yo” (his nickname) and his supportive mom, Tita Pee Jey, and their ally in the community of San Vicente, Guimbal, Vice Mayor Christy Custodio-Margarico, express the rising consciousness for a future with less waste.

We have begun the conversations and actions with the men and women there in Barangay Bongol on why and how reducing solid waste is a priority for the community.

Yo is a 5 Gyres Ambassador and is the only Filipino chosen from 4,800 participants worlwide to be a finalist in Project Turning Green. After a month-long series of rigorous daily challenges on sustainable change, Yo was recently flown to San Francisco, USA, and was empowered as a global young leader in the zero waste advocacy.

We may not reach absolute zero in terms of waste production, but what inspiring advocates like Yo, the 9-year-old Miguel, and everyone we met at the Zero Waste Youth Convergence have shown us, is that we could come together to care about what truly matters – clean air, water, food for the future – and not to waste them.