On death

On death

My previous post was scheduled to be published on November 18. I remember i was wrapping it up just a couple of minutes before i fell asleep. I had only been asleep for half an hour when my mother woke me up at 2:30 a.m. telling me that my 90-year-old lola (grandmother) has died. Mommy, as we all called her, had been trying to live up to my father’s birthday on the 19th. She didn’t make it.

I was reading my recent posts just before writing this and was surprised to see that i was preparing for what this year has yet to offer, that i was hopeful things would happen for the better. But i certainly didn’t expect or prepare for this. Nor did i think Mommy’s passing would be anything for the better. 

I should find solace in the fact that she had been desiring that moment with all her heart–that moment when she’ll come home to her Lord (and with open arms as she would imagine). But it’s hard. I’m still so pained by her passing. I thought i was already prepared for this as my maternal grandmother also died last year. Both of them were dear to me.

When my maternal grandmother died last year, i had just started doing little zero waste practices. During the entire duration of her wake, i saw how wasteful an event such as death can be. I saw that again in Mommy’s wake. 

Lamay (wake) in the Philippines is like a salu-salo, a gathering, a party–a party for the dead: the bereaved family and relatives prepare food and drinks for guests who have come to mourn with them. I just realized it’s the biggest party in a person’s life: it lasts for days, relatives abroad come home, families become complete, distant friends you’ve never heard of in years appear. Now. Of all the time that we had. Now, when the “celebrator” is not even here. It’s a sad party. But a party nonetheless.

Like any parties, a wake is wasteful. My lola’s death last year was the first death in the family in my adult life. I helped the family buy food for guests, which completely puzzled me because why? Why should we, the bereaved family, do all the hassle of preparing food for them? Didn’t they come to express their condolences? to join us in our mourning? Surely they didn’t come to eat, right?

But then what’s a party without food? 

And perhaps this is a party no one prepares for. And with all the affairs and emotions the dead leaves us, convenience is the first and last resort. So hello, grocery food. Hello, single-use cups and utensils. Hello, Tetra Pak drinks and straws. Paper plates. Stirrers (stupidest thing invented ever). Tissue papers. Junk food in plastic-foil packaging. Instant coffee in sachets. Candies in plastic wrappers (seriously, is this Halloween? Why the need for candies??? Would visitors feel better if they suck on something sweet and minty?) 

We humans are so funny. Doing all the hassle for the dead. All the making up (bec wut, life happened?). All when it’s too late. It’s such a waste. The dead doesn’t give a damn anymore. 

She is not here anymore. 

So much had happened in the very short time since i came home from Japan. And so much, too, had been missed. Perhaps if i knew how to manage and value time, perhaps if i valued relationship over work, i would’ve chosen to spend time with her. Perhaps if i knew better, i would’ve listened more, tried to understand, loved harder.

What Joshua Fields Millburn of The Minimalists once said is true:

It seems we don’t know how to love the ones we love until they disappear from our lives.

It hurts to realize it’s too late to wish i knew how. 

Bye, Mommy. “Spread your wings and I know that when God took you back, he said, ‘Hallelujah, you’re home.'”

“Zero waste” travel: Japan

“Zero waste” travel: Japan

Last month, i went to Japan with my friends from college. I wanted this trip to be as zero waste as possible, so i brought with me my zero waste essentials, as well as my own toiletries.

Brought my Korean chopsticks so i don’t have to use the disposable ones.
I also managed to master the art of refusing. “No straw, please. Arigatou gozaimasu!” “No plastic, please. Arigatou gozaimasu!” I was glad the Japanese didn’t find this insulting. In fact, they were very accommodating to my choices.

Butterbeer is best enjoyed without a straw. 😊
However, i also had failures. There were times when we had no choice but to buy packaged food from the 24-hour Lawson and bring them to our Airbnb because restaurants were already closed.

Tsk tsk. Trash from instant ramen, instant o-nigiri, snacks, ice cream, etc. All of these go straight into my ecobrick.
And then because i am a Filipino, buying pasalubong or souvenirs has always been a must. I struggled so hard with this and eventually lost. I always hated shopping and yet i felt i needed to bring something home. Anyway, my pasalubong for friends and colleagues were materials made of paper and were bought without packaging. Still, i brought home some packaged goods for family.

Then there were also the traps: bag tags and stickers from airports, receipts and tickets, brochures and maps i thought i needed and didn’t refuse.

Trash as souvenirs
Obviously, my trip to Japan wasn’t zero waste. I’m not proud of this and will definitely strive harder in my future travels. Next time, i will plan ahead so i don’t have to resort to convenient stores for food and, of course, as much as possible, buy only plastic-free pasalubong.

One of the many things that i loved about Japan was the cleanliness. In all the cities we visited–Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Nagoya–the Japanese seemed to value cleanliness. Like in Metro Manila, stores weren’t exactly package-free and many people used plastic straws and disposable utensils like chopsticks. But how come there weren’t trash everywhere? Then i realized it’s because the Japanese cleaned their surroundings religiously, managed their wastes properly, and simply gave a shit-ton about trash. For example, people didn’t toss their trash anywhere they deem fit but in trash bins that follow a strict sorting system. Also, one of the house rules of our Airbnb host was to make sure all our trash is bagged in plastic before we leave the flat. In the Philippines, our uber hospitable hosts don’t usually tell guests to clean up.

When in a place like Japan, it’s easy to think about home and feel sad, frustrated; to think about the good life it offers, but also your dreams and hopes back home. One of my simple dreams is to see Metro Manila clean and green. I believe it isn’t impossible. All it takes is to give a shit. Like how zero wasters give a shit about trash, about rivers and seas, about our planet. Of course, this dream can’t be realized by just bringing reusables and refusing single-use plastics. But those small actions are ripples of change that, i’m hopeful, are building great waves of positive impact that can lead to paradigm shifts, systems change, and government action and that eventually can make this dream come true.

Compost update

Compost update

I’m taking the sem break to catch up on my commitments. The other day i managed to finish my own version of the #MinimalistGame (at least the dumping of stuff in my “good-bye” box; i’ve yet to turn them over to our local library, Segunda Mana, junk shops, or any of these orgs). Still, when i look around me, there is still so much stuff. I’m looking forward to doing the game again, but this time following the actual rules.

I also checked out my compost pot. After about eight months, it had been full to the brim, with a mound of hay stacked above it. As no more waste can be added to the pot, i thought maybe it’s about time i harvest the compost. So i removed the mound of hay and saw that the topmost layer was already earth-like. I’m not sure if i did the right thing, but i removed quite an amount of the topmost layer and sprinkled them over some plants. I’m having doubts now because i realized that that layer was newer than the bottom layers and had less time breaking down. But then its texture looked and felt great, although with lots of hay poking out here and there. On the other hand, the middle and the bottommost layers beneath that were quite moist. I’m surprised that despite little air circulation, the compost didn’t smell. In fact, my compost was odorless. I take this as a sign that my compost, in general, did well. Anyway, i thought to give it more time to break down (there were visible egg shells), so i aerated it, mixing the mound of hay i removed earlier in it.

Closed loop: Turning food waste into earth or, rather, returning food back to earth

I’m still learning about composting and most of the time i just go by feel. Nonetheless, i’m happy i was able to get back to it. It had been months since i actually got my hands dirty; the past months i merely tossed in fruit peelings in my pot and occasionally poked the contents. I had almost forgotten how earth feels in my hands so working in the garden again felt therapeutic. Also, i’ve realized how truly amazing Nature works: amidst all the stress of the past months, here She’s been, doing Her work silently, beautifully, closing the loop, somehow reassuring me that with the right attitude and effort things will work out as they would and for the better.

When stress becomes wasteful

When stress becomes wasteful

The past six months have been eventful and stressful. They went by so fast and with so many ups and downs that i found myself very exhausted and extremely sad at numerous times.

Since end of May up to the time of writing, many events have happened: as soon as i submitted my thesis proposal in May, i immediately applied for teaching positions; went to interviews, exams, teaching demos, and medical tests; got hired; organized a birthday party for my 90-year-old grandmother who, the day after her party, we’d learn has cancer; then became a teacher and the school year began.

I had not taken a real rest during the first few months since May until end of July when classes were suspended for three days due to typhoon Gorio. I slept for the most part of those three days and one of those days was my birthday. I considered that one of the sweetest birthday treats ever.

A lot of things have happened since. It’s been stressful and it is evident in my trash. My goal this year has been to fit a year’s trash in two plastic cans and donate it to The Plastic Solution at the end of the year. I have managed to achieve my goal to fit six months of trash in the first can. But only three months into the second half of the year, the second can is already stuffed.

Nine months of trash. My new goal is to fit the remaining months’ trash in another can and no more than that.
That’s the result of stress-eating, getting sick, lack of preparation, and resorting to convenience because requirements, deadlines, lack of sleep. It’s been very unhealthy.

Anyway, the first semester has come to an end. I am thankful for the break, for this long-awaited rest. I plan to slow down, catch up on commitments (including my unfinished #MinimalistGame), and prepare for what the remaining of 2017 has yet to offer.

Decluttering is forever

Decluttering is forever

Long before i heard of zero waste or minimalism, i’ve always been uneasy with stuff. Of course, growing up in a Filipino middle-class consumerist culture, i’ve had my fair share of enjoying giving and receiving gifts and buying stuff just in case or just because. But as i am really more of a simple, nature-loving person, i find stuff just generally overwhelming. Plus, i just hate how capitalism works.

Anyway, i hadn’t realized then that i could do something about my stuff. I kind of thought, just as i did with trash before, that stuff just happens. So i was so glad to have stumbled upon Annie Leonard’s internet film The Story of Stuff about two years ago. My discomfort with stuff and hyperconsumerism in general had never been so well articulated before: stuff is made for the dump. In other words, we are trashing the planet thru mindless consumption of stuff. The short movie also made me see my clutter in a different way. Suddenly, all my stuff were magnified and i felt so overwhelmed. And i was never even a shopaholic or a hoarder. This might seem exaggerated, but i once did feel a slight anxiety a year ago when i did a general cleaning of my room: there was so much useless stuff and i didn’t know what to do with them but to either keep them or trash them away. Either way, i got slightly anxious. 

Believe it or not, i have been decluttering for a year. I quit my previous job a year ago and started decluttering since. I’m still decluttering. It. Never. Ends. But then again i don’t do it regularly (because thesis ugh) so maybe that’s also why it’s taking me forever. 

And so i am challenging myself this month to do the 30-day minimalism game. This game is inspired by The Minimalists. But because i don’t think i’d be able to get rid of 465 things in a month or afford to get rid of them all by midnight each day–also since we’re talking about just my stuff, not my family’s–i’ll have my own rules. 

And here are the rules of my own #MinsGame:

1. Each day, i will put at least three items in my “good-bye box.”

2. At the end of June, books will be donated to our local public library.

3. At the end of June, clothes, bags, and other stuff will be donated to Segunda Mana or any of these organizations.

My “good-bye” box already has some stuff in it as a result of my decluttering. I’ve also donated an earlier batch of books last March to my local public library and i already have another batch waiting to be donated. The stuff already in the box, as well as the books, won’t be counted for this game.

This game starts today. Wish me luck! 

On habits, culprits, and some good bits

On habits, culprits, and some good bits

Zero wasting, to me, is about changing habits and lifestyle to achieve the utopian vision that is sustainability. It is being mindful of your choices and actions so that you generate as minimal waste as possible.

As such, ever since starting this journey i’ve learned to let go of old habits and develop new ones. The following are just some of the simplest examples.

I used to buy bottled water when thirsty, but now i bring a reusable water bottle everywhere i go.

Before, i just unconsciously accepted plastic bags when buying anything. Anything. Even stuff that can be simply put in my bag. (Oh the things we do if we aren’t mindful!) But now, i always bring reusable cloth bags and refuse plastic bags. That said, i’ve also learned the art of refusing and asking for an alternative. (Well, not really. You’ll see later.)

I also used to just use/accept disposable plates, cutlery, and cups when eating out. Not anymore, tho, as i now always bring my own baunan (lunch box), cutlery, and cup when going out. Hence, my bag has been bigger and heavier since zero wasting!

      Other new habits include segregating and recycling. I no longer put my trash into one bin. They are properly segregated–paper, metals, plastics, ink cartridges–in a cabinet for recycling. Trash that can’t be recycled go into my ecobrick can, which i will drop off at The Plastic Solution once it’s full. These simple habits reduce trash big time, saving a lot of garbage from going to landfills.

      Also, i’m trying to get into the habit of not buying anything new. I’ve never been a shopaholic anyway so this is easy. And really, i don’t need anything new. Since zero wasting and, in effect, minimalizing, i’ve found out that i already have everything that i need. In fact, i have more than what’s needed that i’ve come to see my stuff as overwhelming. Hence, decluttering has become a new habit too.

      Another reason why i’ve decided to not buy any new stuff for myself is because people will do that for me anyway. Now this brings me to what i call “culprits.”

      A while ago i said that i’ve learned the art of refusing. Well, not really. As i’ve said in a previous post, we Filipinos love giving gifts and souvenirs. And gifts aren’t something you can easily refuse: it’s not even because one likes receiving gifts; it’s just considered rude to refuse a well-meaning gesture. That said, gifts and pasalubong are the number one culprits of my trash.

      Thanks but no thanks. My four months of trash–the result of decluttering and so much pasalubong (gifts/souvenirs), which often come in packaging.

      Another culprit is attending conferences. I’ve already been to three this year and realized how wasteful these events can be. Conference kits have so much unnecessary freebies inside. I admit i haven’t really learned how to politely refuse or return these useless giveaways, so here they are adding junk to my clutter. And then there’s also the food. Two out of three of the conferences i attended served food in single-use plastic containers and with plastic cutlery. Lack of foresight and, thus, preparation, is therefore another culprit. Had i foreseen these, i would have brought my own food instead of ending up guiltily accepting them. 😭 In both instances, tho, i used my own spoon and fork.

      Anyway, as i’ve said before zero wasting here is not without its challenges. But once you see your trash in a new light, there’s no turning back: there’s only striving to become better as you go. 

      That’s what i’m doing. And i’m so glad to have found a community in the Philippines who are also doing the same! They’re mostly on instagram where they actively share zero waste tips. Our community of “zero wasters” is not yet that big as in other countries, but i believe we are growing. Recently i’ve learned that my university (UST) gave away free reusable metal straws to students in an effort to make the campus straw-free. Ayala malls are also now plastic bag-free. More and more schools are doing The Plastic Solution’s #StuffItChallenge. And menstrual cups are now getting social media attention. These may be tiny bits of good news, but they mean valuable efforts nonetheless. They mean that people are making efforts to change their habits, as well as address the culprits.

      We’re only in the first half of 2017 and so much has happened already, although not always for the better. And while it’s still rather early to tell that this year is better than the last, i can feel that, in general, we are trying to get things right this time.

      HP’s closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program

      HP’s closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program

      Note: All opinions on this blog regarding a product/brand/company are solely my own. I do not receive any compensation from anyone for these views. (Just thought i’d make this clear just in case someone mistakes this for a paid/PR blog post.)

      When i first learned about zero waste i made a quick mental survey of all of my stuff and habits and assessed how these generate waste. I realized that, from my food and personal care to my work and studies, my lifestyle does generate a lot of waste. As such, i am constantly looking for alternatives and solutions, as well as changing my habits, in order to reduce or avoid trash.

      One thing i can’t entirely remove from my system, tho, is printing. As a graduate student, i tend to do a lot of reading and writing, as well as printing. I know that a lot of the materials i need are available online and that i can actually opt to read papers digitally. But reading from an electronic device (phone, tab, or laptop) for a long time hurts my eyes (and sometimes even gives me vertigo πŸ˜”πŸ˜’), making printouts necessary.

      While i’ve conceded to the fact that i can’t do away with printing, i’m bothered by the waste ink cartridges make. Ink cartridges from major brands (like Hewlett-Packard or simply HP) are usually designed for single use. In addition, they come in layers of packaging and millions end up in landfills every year.

      I initally thought my only option was to send all my spent cartridges to recycling centers (where the cartridges will most likely be collected for reselling). But then i realized i can also have them refilled at shops like Ink All-You-Can, which provide continuous ink supply system (CISS) technologies. And so a couple of weeks ago, instead of buying new and original HP ink cartridges, i had my spent HP cartridges refilled at Ink All-You-Can. Sadly, i didn’t like the print quality: the color was really bad and it was messy. In addition, the ink stuck up within a week. I thought this was a waste of money. (But this was just my experience with Ink All-You-Can and HP ink cartridges. Some people were luckier.) Hence, i had no other choice but to buy original HP ink cartridges again.

      Dissatisfied with having to resort to buying original ink cartridges every time, i wondered if HP happens to have a closed-loop system by which they take back their products and do something about reducing their impact. I googled and found out that HP in fact has a closed-loop recycling system for their ink and toner cartridges! What’s more surprising is that the program has been going on in the Philippines since 2011!

      To confirm if HP Philippines does comply to this, i visited the HP store in SM Fairview and inquired if i can drop off my spent cartridges. I was so thrilled when i heard that, yes, i can in fact drop all of my used cartridges off at the store as HP collects them for its closed-loop ink cartridge recycling program. 

      Saved from landfills. I dropped all of these off at an HP store just before writing this blog post. 

      I’m so happy about this that i’m a new HP fan now. Not only for the reason that we’ve had our HP printer for a long time now (and it’s still working well), but also for the fact that HP is bent on reducing its environmental footprint. I am still hoping, tho, that HP tries better solutions, like making its ink cartridges refill-friendly and having ink refill stations at its stores. After all, reusing ink cartridges conserves a lot more resources and energy than recycling.

      HP ink cartridges, i was told at Ink All-You-Can, supposedly can be refilled at least 10 times. So i’m still interested in refills and will give it a another chance next time, probably with a different refilling brand. I want to be able to maximize the life of an ink cartridge before sending it back to HP for recycling. Nevertheless, when things fail again, i’m glad there’s HP’s closed-loop recycling program.