Turning Back the Tide

GAIA and #BreakFreeFromPlastic Members Respond to Ocean Conservancy’s Apology

MANILA: 15 JULY, 2022

The United States-based organization Ocean Conservancy (OC), on 11th July 2022, issued a long-overdue apology to more than seven hundred organizations for the harm caused by the publication of their 2015 report “Stemming the Tide: Land-based strategies for a plastic-free ocean”, expressing its willingness to take responsibility for the damage caused by the publication.

Froilan Grate, Regional Director of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) –  Asia Pacific comments:

 “The OC report not only harmed the five countries wrongfully blamed for plastic pollution, but misled for years governments and the public into thinking that  burning plastic waste was a solution to the problem.”

“The apology is an invitation to hear the voices and concerns of communities and groups in the Asia Pacific region who have been disproportionately impacted by this framing, and for whom this issue is very personal. This is a time for the rest of the world to listen and follow their lead.“

When it was released, the OC report was instrumental in putting the onus for plastic waste on five Asian countries (Philippines, China, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand), completely disregarding the role of countries in the Global North for their overproduction of plastic and plastic waste exports to developing countries under the guise of “trade”. The report also promoted incineration as a “solution” to the plastic pollution problem, enticing governments to adopt incineration, exposing their citizens to health risks, and enabling further plastic production with the myth that we can simply burn our plastic pollution problems away.

Since then, more than seven hundred organizations signed a letter exposing the damaging impacts of such inaccurate framing. For years, environmental groups worked to correct the narrative by 1) providing evidence about the entities  primarily  responsible  for the tonnes of plastic waste ending up  in the  environment, namely  the Global North corporations producing and selling plastic; and 2) debunking false solutions like waste incineration, “Waste-To-Energy”, and Chemical Recycling that cause further damage to vulnerable communities while doing little to curb plastic production.

After receiving the apology, several of the impacted groups are engaging in a repair and transformative justice process with OC to identify ways to mitigate the harm caused. Currently, GAIA, together with its members and allies from the #breakfreefromplastic movement, is leading a series of conversations with Ocean Conservancy to identify the path forward.

Grate adds, 

“We are taking the first step with OC towards restoring the much-needed justice for the impacted communities in Asia. We feel hopeful that the outcome of this process will be healing and will repair some of the harm caused, and committed to keeping our community involved in the next steps of this conversation, and informed once concrete outcomes have emerged from this process.“



Sonia Astudillo, GAIA Asia Pacific Communications Officer | sonia@no-burn.org | +63 917 5969286

Froilan Grate, GAIA Asia Pacific Regional Director | froilan@no-burn.org | +63 977 806 7653


About GAIA – GAIA is a worldwide alliance of more than 800 grassroots groups, non-governmental organizations, and individuals in over 90 countries. With our work we aim to catalyze a global shift towards environmental justice by strengthening grassroots social movements that advance solutions to waste and pollution. We envision a just, zero waste world built on respect for ecological limits and community rights, where people are free from the burden of toxic pollution, and resources are sustainably conserved, not burned or dumped. 

About Break Free From Plastic –  #breakfreefromplastic is a global movement envisioning a future free from plastic pollution. Since its launch in 2016, more than 2,000 organizations and 11,000 individual supporters from across the world have joined the movement to demand massive reductions in single-use plastics and push for lasting solutions to the plastic pollution crisis. BFFP member organizations and individuals share the shared values of environmental protection and social justice and work together through a holistic approach to bring about systemic change. This means tackling plastic pollution across the whole plastics value chain—from extraction to disposal—focusing on prevention rather than cure and providing effective solutions.www.breakfreefromplastic.org


The EcoWaste Coalition: A Formidable Coalition of Environment and Social Justice Advocates

Interview with Aileen Lucero by Dan Abril

Discussing environment groups in the Philippines would not be complete without putting the spotlight on the EcoWaste Coalition. Always the face of environmental activism in the country, any venture of the coalition – with their placards, creative action, and no compromise stand –  is sure to land a page in newspapers and/or a segment in the evening news. However, what most people are not aware of is that the EcoWaste Coalition is more than a group of intense environmentalists.

A brief history of EWC

Formed over two decades ago, the organization has grown from a small assembly to a strong coalition of 150 organizations working on Zero Waste solutions and chemical control.

Aileen Lucero, the coalition’s National Director, has been with the group since the early 2000s. She shares that her role as the coalition’s lead is quite taxing but otherwise very fulfilling. 

Recounting the Coalition’s history, she shares, “The EcoWaste Coalition began as an assembly campaigning for the urgent adoption of the Clean Air Bill, and was brought together in 1999 by Greenpeace and the Action Center of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Then,  we were known as the Clean Air Coalition.”

With the passing of the bill into law, the assembly, fueled by its initial success, moved to become The EcoWaste Coalition. This time, switching the team’s focus to solid waste management.   

For one afternoon, despite her busy schedule, we sat down and talked to Aileen about the EcoWaste Coalition: its work, goals, and the implications of being one of the most vocal and visible environment advocacy groups in the Philippines.

The EWC’s Top Priorities

Balancing the different priorities and advocacies of 150 organizations is challenging but through a regular General Assembly that is held every two years, we align various objectives into one goal. In 2018, we presented a new vision and a new mission – and that is working towards Zero Waste in communities. 

The Zero Waste advocacy still complements our original advocacy on solid waste management since the Philippine law on solid waste is made up of components, such as true waste management, clean production, and a ban on incineration. 

The ECW’s main ongoing campaigns

 Our goals are to promote meaningful laws and to stop regressive policies. As a coalition, we also highlight our members’ work and best practices particularly in the areas of ecological agriculture, Zero Waste, and chemical safety.

The EWC’s biggest accomplishments and achievements

We have a lot of campaigns and success stories but what we are most proud of is being instrumental in the passage of the Clean Air Act and successfully adding a section that bans incineration. We are also proud of taking the lead in sending wastes back to source countries. The downside to these achievements is that it makes us readily identifiable to the industries we are standing up against. Come to think of it, maybe it is fair to say that the threats we receive are also an achievement because it means that we’re a formidable devil’s advocate when it comes to these pressing issues.

Challenges EWC is facing. Changes brought about by COVID-19

Being at the forefront of exposés and investigations, we’re always at the receiving end of threats and lawsuits from big companies and landfill owners. But we don’t back down.  We play their game. If they harass us, we inform members and send out news releases so that these entities are put under the spotlight by the media in relation to the former’s attempts at intimidation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased the difficulty faced by members who work directly with communities. This was further compounded by a lack of access or unfamiliarity with technology by some of our members. When the first lockdown was lifted, members still had to practice proper social distancing and other safety measures when they conducted brand audits and went to communities to help set up equipment so members from these far-flung communities can attend webinars In places where there is really a lack of technology, we used flipcharts and organized community gatherings in town meeting halls.

Main environment issues faced by the Philippines and Southeast Asia 

While there have been improvements in the last 2 decades, the Philippines primarily lacks the political will to enforce laws because the environment is always the least priority. For example, the Clean Air Act lacks stringent implementation. Shockingly, policymakers are now pushing for false solutions which go against these very environmental laws. The Solid Waste Management Board is another example. It only has us as a lone CSO representative, while the rests are government agencies or industry representatives. We need more representatives from the environmental sector who are willing and able to influence policymakers, mobilize supporters, and stay true to their stand in the face of criticism.

Organization’s work in the next several years

We see the Coalition growing stronger with more members and lending more voice for stringent policies. We also want to see the Coalition step out of our watchdog reputation and evolve to become a policy influencer. 

Thoughts on the waste crisis that many countries are facing right now

Plastic waste is a massive problem for The Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries. I can’t speak for those in other countries but, here, if only there was a robust implementation of the solid waste management law, then we would not have this much historical waste. It’s a shame because there are communities here in the Philippines which have adopted Zero Waste measures and are proudly doing well. An important lesson to learn here is thatthe implementation of the national solid waste management strategies in this country must keep up and align with the Zero Waste efforts of local government units (LGUs).

 On collaborating with other NGOs in the region

We have a strong relationship with our regional partners, specifically in providing ample support in amplifying each other’s campaigns or sharing experts on the issue at hand. Recently, we collaborated with IPEN Southeast Asia on assessing the waste trade here in Southeast and East Asia. IPEN did magnificent research work and gathered substantial insights and data, without which we would not have been able to come up with such a comprehensive and informative webinar for all.  

EcoWaste Coalition’s work and social justice

Right from the start, we have always included social and environmental justice in our calls — from clean air and Zero Waste to, more evidently, the informal waste sector and the health effects of dumpsites and landfills.  

 We want to erase the idea that consumers are to blame for plastic waste, and we want to stress that landfills and incinerators are not safe. If such facilities are truly safe, why not construct one beside a government official’s mansion? Why build it in poor communities? 

 People in environment work most admired

 Four people come to mind. The first two would be Von Hernandez and Manny Calonzo. Because of their work, we have the Clean Air Act and we have the EcoWaste Coalition. Next, there’s Fr. Edu Gariguez. His dedication to preserving communities and the ecology of Mindoro is inspiring. And of course, there is Dr. Jorge Emmanuel. He is very knowledgeable, helpful, and eloquent. Despite being involved in this work for almost two decades, I still learn a lot from them, and for that, I will always admire them.