The Exponent (weekly newspaper for Mt. Prov. Philippines) Published October 28th, 2013

In every municipality of Mt. Province, the streets and fields are remarkably cleaner. This isn’t the work of governments, politicians or NGOs.  Rather, industrious and visionary youth are leading the sweep.   You have probably seen them scurrying about, picking up plastics and packing them into PET bottles.

Guide capture“Ecobricks have become an obvious, everyday, long-term habit for households in Mt. Province, including mine” says Russell Maier, a Canadian living in Sabangan, Mt. Province.

“For the first time ever we are seeing a dramatic reduction in dumping, burying and burning of waste– folks know that this causes long term poisoning of our environment, and they are impassioned with the Ecobrick alternative. Now the plastics are a resource to make reusable building blocks”.

Russell began experimenting with methods of using his household plastics to make building blocks for his garden two years ago. By packing a 1.5L PET bottle solid (~0.5 kg) an Ecobrick, is made.  He has been working with DepEd and select schools around the province to develop and share the Ecobrick technology.

According to the OIC-SDS Sally B. Ullalim, “If everyone were to make Ecobricks, our basura problem would be no more.”

Incredibly, this is exactly what has started to happen. Reports are coming in from even the most remote villages of the disappearance of plastics from the streets.   It now seems simple and obvious, but it has taken a year of hard-work to get to this point.

From the failures and successes with pioneer schools, a Vision Ecobrick Guide (VEB) was crafted by Russell, Irene Bakisan from  DepEd and contributors from around the Philippines. The document guides students in visioning their communities living in harmony with the environment. The VEB Guide includes steps on how to make, vision, grade, log, and construct with Ecobricks.   The guide can be downloaded at Ecobricks.org.

According to Irene, “The Ecobrick sweep was reinforced through the leadership of the Supreme Student Government, Supreme Pupil Government and the OIC-Schools Division Superintendent who personally took charge of getting our Vision Ecobrick Guide out to all the 263 public and 9 private schools of Mountain Province in August, 2013”

“The best thing about Ecobricking is it makes us think about our ‘trash'” says Russell. “The time consuming, labourious process of making an Ecobrick is a meditative moment to reflect on our personal wastes, where they would go, and imagine better ways of living”.

Schools and communities are starting to imagine — and to build. According to Irene “Green spaces built with Ecobricks are popping up everywhere.”  Lias, Barlig students made a giant garden sign; OtucanBila NHS of Bauko created a dap-ay as a study corner, Saint Mary’s High School in Sagada built a giant mushroom bench which also lights the pathway and collects rain water; Mt. Data NHS, Bauko made garden benches; and San Alfonso High School, Sabangan have made a composter.   In Bontoc, all elementary and secondary school, are now making Ecobricks– an invaluable help for Mayor Franklin Odsey’s success in closing the Chico Dumpsite. Mayor Odsey’s office walk the talk. His staff diligently segregates their papers and pack their plastics into Ecobricks.

The Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Office, with the help of the Provincial Governor Leonard G. Mayaen built a play-snake-bench in the capitol park. The snake was made with the Ecobricks from the pioneering packing of Bontoc Market Vendors Association and Xijen College  — the first to begin Ecobricking in Bontoc.    Guinaang Elementary School are making and collecting 4000 ecobricks to build a library come the dry season. The entire Diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines is also working together to gather bricks to build a Church in Mayag, Bauko.  Councilor Ernesto of the Municipality of Sabangan, also one of the early bottle-transformation pioneers, has built a showcase youth center in partnership with Lagan Elementary School; “We are proud to lead the way here in Sabangan and protecting the Chico River.”

The VEB Guide also describes the pitfalls to avoid with Ecobricking.  According to Russell, “If we do Ecobricking with the same thinking as before, we just make another mess.  We have to learn from the way ancestors lived with cycles.  They didn’t have pollution because everything they used could be recycled back to where it began.  We thus have to plan the next life of Ecobricks as we make them.” Russell cautions against loosely packed bricks, and  using just cement with Ecobricks. “Cemented Ecobricks are impossible to recover from rubble.  We’ve learned that its essential to use cob mortar with Ecobricks.  This way people in the future can reuse the Ecobricks over and over”  This way people in the future can reuse the Ecobricks over and over.”  Cob is an organic cement made from local clay, sand and straw that has been used for around the world by indigenous peoples and can be seen in the Igorot structures at the Bontoc museum.

According to Russell “The deep sustainability of the Igorot culture inspires me and my work. The profound values of gaget, ob-obbo, binaddang, and paniyew are the reason why Ecobricking has taken off .  I know no where else in the world where Ecobricks have become a grassroots and full solution to the plastic problem. Mark my words– the Igorots will inspire the world.”

The VEB Guide, including cob making instructions, can be downloaded from www.Ecobricks.org