From Trash to Treasure

 by Tamara A.

Manila was a difficult city for me to spend a lot of time in. This had nothing to do with the people…outright. At least, it had nothing to do with their overall charm and gracious hospitality. I found Filipinos to be generally happy and generous people, even as they gawked at my relative giantism. The difficulty more came in dealing with their disposal/waste habits. I’m talking about the trash. Not only did garbage litter just about every street or sidewalk surface that you could find, but it gave a slight stench to the city that you could never fully escape.

Not a lot of things really bother me when I am traveling. I like to think that I am an open-minded traveler with the ability to recognize and accept cultural differences as exactly that. I have seen bugs eaten as an afternoon snack. (Not my preference, but ok.) I have seen people truly determined to pick that treasure out of their nose. (I would reserve that for private time.) I have laid on a nude beach next to a very comfortable, large woman. (Tanlines are acceptable for me.) But one thing that gets me every time is accumulating trash.

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Garbage along shore in Manila, Philippines

This is a large problem in developing countries. Streets, parks, fields, forests, coastlines are often tainted from the garbage buildup. It is easy for outsiders to see this and immediately point fingers at the locals. Why don’t they care about the appearance and health of their communities? But what is as equally striking is the lack of trashcans, let alone recycling opportunities, offered by the government. If the infrastructure does not support responsible disposal, then how can we expect the citizens to form responsible habits? This is the difference between waste management problems in developed and developing countries. Developed countries have the infrastructure in place, and thus, the responsibility shifts from the government to the citizens as they (presumably) have the tools and knowledge to make the environmentally friendly choices.

However, (literally) using bits of this problem to create opportunities for themselves and their communities, many citizens in developing countries have proven their resourcefulness. Walking through the streets of most any city in Southeast Asia, you can find vendors selling a wide variety of hand-made crafts. A majority of these are fashioned from pop cans, bottles, snack wrappers, plastic bags, or other materials formerly seen as mere trash. It is amazing that the stray garbage that I see as such a tragedy can be turned into a positive thing for people.

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Salvacion mother sewing a bag (taken from the Salvacion GarBAGs website)

One such group that decided to better themselves and their families while improving their community is Salvacion GarBAGs. This is a project created by and for the women of the Salvacion neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Philippines. My friend had the privilege of working with these women for the past couple of years. She has told me all about their desire to make their community and families strong and beautiful. The whole group is made up of mothers. They work hard to design and create a variety of products (grocery bags, toiletry bags, purses, wallets, etc.) from materials that would otherwise become non-biodegradable waste. With 100% of the profits going straight to the women, they have been able to support their families as well as fund the local preschool. Awesome!

According to their website, the four major goals of Salvacion GarBAGs are:

  1. to boost our families’ incomes
  2. to recycle and reuse materials that would otherwise be thrown away as non-biodegradable trash
  3. to empower ourselves and become active participants in providing for our families
  4. to enable ourselves to manage a small business and become successful entrepreneurs

I realize that coming from a place with consistent waste management and a priority on recycling leaves me skewed in how I believe it should be handled. Not all people have the access to environmental education and awareness that we are privileged to in the United States. That makes me more understanding of the circumstances though not accepting of the whole situation. However, I am glad that some individuals and groups, such as Salvacion GarBAGs, are able to use it in a positive manner and make a small step towards rectifying the problem.

To learn more about Salvacion GarBAGs and the products that they offer, visit their website at http://salvaciongarbags.weebly.com/index.html or see their Facebook page.

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