By Paula de Castro
The youth are a crucial force in Zero Waste implementation in the Asia Pacific region. And to highlight just how important their roles are, three youth-centered initiatives were given the spotlight during the recent International Zero Waste Cities Conference held in Indonesia: Mother Earth Foundation’s Zero Waste Youth Pilipinas, Consumers Association of Penang’s youth-focused education activities, and Trivandrum, Kerala’s Green Army.
Zero Waste Youth Pilipinas: Signature Campaigns and More
In the Philippines, the youth have been actively promoting Zero Waste, and in fact were instrumental in the declaration of the Zero Waste Month. In the Zero Waste Youth Festival held by Mother Earth Foundation (MEF) in October 2012 attended by more than 200 youth, a statement encouraging then President Benigno Simeon Aquino to declare a Zero Waste Month was initiated. In just a little more than a year, President Aquino issued Presidential Proclamation No. 760 designating every January as Zero Waste Month.
Consequently, on the first celebration of the Zero Waste Month, a Zero Waste Youth Caravan was organized in various schools across the country to educate high school students on waste issues. In that very first caravan, a signature campaign calling for the strict implementation of the Philippine law, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000, was launched. The campaign gathered more than 50,000 signatures.
Aside from conducting signature campaigns, members of the Zero Waste Youth Pilipinas also implement environmental programs, hold Zero Waste Youth Camp and conduct information campaigns, such as:
- Bring Your Own Baunan (BYOB), and Oh my Glass (OMG!), where students are asked to bring their own reusable containers and tumblers for their break times;
- Shoot that Kalat, wherein there are huge bins in the school grounds where students just shoot the PET bottles that they have used;
- Monitoring of segregation to record the compliance rate of the students in segregation, and how much waste they produce per grade level.
According to Froilan Grate, president of MEF and Regional Coordinator of GAIA Asia Pacific, it is crucial that the youth are involved in Zero Waste. “Giving responsibility to the youth empowers them to help and contribute in solving the waste problem. It allows them to fully understand that what they are doing is vital to the city’s Zero Waste goal,” he said.
The Youth of Penang: Starting Them Young
In Penang, Malaysia, the youth, even those as young as children in kindergarten, are not confined to merely learning their ABCs and 123s, thanks to the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP).
According to Theeban Gunasekaran, Education Officer of CAP, it’s never too early to teach children about topics such as health and nutrition, farming, caring for nature, and even lifestyle diseases.
“The youth are vibrant. Hence, they are the right target group to rouse to live a Zero Waste lifestyle and convey Zero Waste messages. Empowering the youth is crucial to making the world toxic-free and safe for all,” he said, emphasizing that the best way to reach out to the youth is through schools and higher learning institutions.
“CAP has developed a close contact with the youth. Not a week goes in CAP without meeting a group of students,” he added.
In their lectures on health and nutrition, CAP shares vital information such as the amount of sugar in various types of drinks, the negative effects of smoking, e-cigarette and processed food, and diseases caused by unhealthy eating and living. They also promote traditional practices such as using herbs which further leads to teaching children on how to grow their own herbs.
“Last year, we had a group of students making door-to-door visit to houses in certain parts of Penang distributing herbs and explaining their health benefits. Direct involvement of youth ensures effective participation and significant changes in the society,” said Theeban.
To ease the task of reaching out to the youth, CAP formed Consumers Clubs in schools in Malaysia. Through the clubs, CAP gathers teachers to discuss with them various consumer issues. This ensures commitment among teachers to impart consumer messages to their students and constant communication among teachers and CAP.
With the teachers’ involvement, several schools have banned the sale of processed food in school canteens and reintroduced traditional food that are not only healthy but also come with less or no packaging.
CAP also conducts fora and learning sessions on plastic packaging, how wasteful it is and how much plastic we are being burdened with as a result of over-packaged foods. There are also sessions on urban farming, composting techniques using kitchen, garden and fish waste, and making soil enhancers using spoiled fruits.
To ease the seriousness of the topics, CAP Education Officers make their teaching sessions creative and hands-on, thus capturing the enthusiasm and unleashing the imagination of the young students.
Green Army: Youth for Green Protocol
Green Army is a movement led by youth to educate children on Zero Waste and to make a toxic free future. It is a platform where individuals and groups with similar vision work together with students to educate them about segregated waste management, organic farming, and other sustainable living practices in an urban environment.
Many NGOs, volunteering organizations, students, working professionals, and retired officials form the mentors of Green Army. Members from organisations like Thanal, Sahridhaya, Make a Difference (MAD), Care Others Too (CO2), Prakruthi, Kerala Shasthra Sahithya Parishad, Save A Rupee Spread A Smile (SARSAS), Green Village, Indus Cycling Embassy, Recycle Bin (a group of Architects) and others volunteer as Green Army mentors.
There are more than 100 active Green Army volunteers in the city. Around 30 schools have been given basic orientation on segregated waste management, organic farming, green protocol, and disposable plastics. Many of them have started campaigning with residential communities neighboring their school.
Green Army members from these schools came forward to implement Green Protocol and Plastic Arrest during major public events and celebrations such as Onam 2017, a weeklong celebration at Trivandrum (the annual harvest festival of Kerala), District Interschool arts and cultural festival, and several school celebrations.
Students took part in the Green Congress 2018 to present their projects and campaign ideas on the Green Action Plan. Volunteers have taken mentorship of various schools in the city to guide the respective Green Army units. Green Army members from all the 30 schools have initiated steps to implement Green Protocol and switch from disposable plastics under the guidance of Green Army mentors in their schools.
Green Army is expanding its campaign to the other cities in India and also other countries. Green Army intends to make an impact in decentralised solid waste management at students’ households, schools and neighboring community by linking waste management to urban organic farming.
“The children are receptive and open to new ideas, so why not teach them about Zero Waste?” said V. Nikhilesh Paliath, Zero Waste and Climate Action Program Coordinator of Thanal, “It’s like investing in the future.”
Babitha PS, a volunteer mentor, agreed. “We have the responsibility to inculcate knowledge, skills, and sustainable practices in children so that they grow up to be responsible adults who are not only aware, but also live in harmony with nature. The children are our only hope for reaching the goal of a clean, green, and safe future,” she said.
With contribution from Suseela Nagappan for the section on Consumers Association of Penang and Dr. Ashin Mohan for the section on Green Army.
Paula de Castro is the Communications Officer of Mother Earth Foundation. Suseela Nagappan is Education Officer at Consumers Association of Penang. Dr. Ashin Mohan is a mentor of the Green Army.
This article appears on the first issue of Waste Not Asia, the official publication of GAIA Asia Pacific.
(Waste Not Asia, Vol. 1, Issue 1, January to March 2018. pp. 16-20)