#EcoSquadGoals awards grants to PH youth projects addressing plastic pollution

#EcoSquadGoals, a program on understanding solid waste management, hosted its culminating grant awarding ceremony last January 8 via Zoom. The project led by the Br. Alfred Shields FSC Ocean Research Center (SHORE) and funded by UNESCO, gave an opportunity for university students across Metro Manila to develop solutions to reduce waste production and promote more sustainable alternatives.

Prior to the main event, Dr. Kathleen Aviso, an environmental systems engineer from the Chemical Engineering Department, opened the ceremony by discussing the potential of improving plastic recyclability as a foundation for developing a circular economy—an economic system wherein materials are recovered and recycled to maximize their use.

Aside from Dr. Aviso, the other grant panelists were Christer de Silva, science communicator and part-time educator at the University, Dr. Ibylou Bandalla-Golla, the current vice president of the Philippine Institute of Environmental Planners and a faculty member of both PUP and DLSU.

Toward sustainability

#EcoSquadGoals was inspired by the need for more people to change their consumption patterns to lessen the generation of plastic waste. “There is a continued increase in the demand for plastics, however, recycling rates remain only at 18 percent [globally]”, said Dr. Aviso.

Aside from pitching startup projects that address plastic consumption, the participants also took part in a module where they tracked the plastic waste generated in their households over the course of a month. The data from this activity was presented on the last day of the event, where it was found that, on average, the participants’ households generated over 10 kilograms of plastic waste, mostly from online shopping and food deliveries.

“Our consumption patterns—the things that we buy—have changed, and not necessarily for the better. A lot of that has to do with plastic,” said Dr. Chona Abeledo, an associate professor from the Biology Department and one of the event’s facilitators.

Pitching solutions

After the first round of pitching, three out of six competing student groups qualified to participate in the final round. These three groups included students from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), the Polytechnical University of the Philippines (PUP), and the University of Asia and the Pacific (UA&P).

ADMU was represented by the Ateneo Environmental Science Society (AESS) with their project called FilipiKnow, while PUP was represented by the PUP Society of Biology with their project titled Ang Plastik Mo!. Finally, UA&P was represented by ALON with their project titled Systematic Application on Goals for Integrating Plastic Management (SAGIP).

For FilipiKnow, proposed as a nationwide webinar, ADMU placed third, winning a grant of 100 USD. ESS representative Ica Policarpio cited that their objective was to educate both consumers and companies on proper waste management. The webinar, which is anticipated to be a free initiative, would introduce the audience to local sustainability and eco-friendly brands.

Doing so, the organization maintained, would result in greater impact by providing actionable items for stakeholders to undertake, not just raising awareness about plastic pollution. “The [message] is not that ‘there’s a problem,’ but rather, ‘this is how you can solve it,’” Policarpio furthered.

The PUP Society of Biology similarly decided to approach the problem through an educational campaign, proposing a two-day seminar-workshop titled Ang Plastik Mo!, which would focus on microplastics and their detrimental effects on both the environment and human health. The organization was awarded second place and a grant worth 200 USD.

With a target audience of Senior High School students, the project would involve “engaging learning activities” meant to “inform future scientists…and encourage them to pursue researches” concerning microplastic waste in the Philippines, according to PUP representative Mico Samaniego.

ALON from UA&P garnered first place with a seed fund of 300 USD for their proposed mobile application called SAGIP. The hub is envisioned to serve as a data collection system for tracking waste generation patterns, including details on the amount and type of waste produced, and then directing the users to appropriate initiatives such as nearby waste management facilities and recycling drives.

Aside from partnering with universities and government units to ensure the project’s sustainability and upscaling, ALON representative Rallion Abeledo expressed hope that SAGIP would kickstart a “megatrend” of ingraining waste management practices and environmental awareness as something sensational in local culture.

The organizations will be expected to implement these initiatives over a six-month period, with monthly progress reports being submitted for monitoring, accountability, and evaluation purposes.

Ultimately, the proponents envision #EcoSquadGoals to serve as “an opportunity for [these] organization[s] to take action…to address the plastic pollution problem.”

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