The Asian ecobrick movement emerged from the land of the Igorot people in the Northern Philippines and is deeply inspired by their ancient ancestral wisdom.
The Igorots, one of the few unconquered indigenous people of the South East Asia, have thrived in ecological harmony for centuries in the remote mountains of the Northern Philippines. Like many other indigenous peoples around the world, the concept of waste does not exist in their language— and consequently in the world around them. Instead their culture was guided by a virtue and concept known as ‘Ayyew’.
Phenomena such as ‘pollution’, ‘poverty’ and ‘exploitation’ also did not exist in their world prior to the arrival of Spanish and American empiralists. Never dominated by Spanish, Japanese or American colonialists, their fierce and wise ‘Ayyew’ culture directly inspires and guides the ecobrick movement sweeping the globe. We consciously adapt the term to summarize and qualify the principles of the ecobrick movement. We feel it fills a pressing linguistic gap and helps us articulate our way forward.
As one of the chief virtues of the Igorot people, the concept of Ayyew guides the Igorot way of life. In the Igorot culture, Ayyew ranked just as high as other virtues such as Courage, Honor or Loyalty. When someone is ayyew, it means that they are striving towards ever increasing harmony with the cycles of life. A farmer who turns a barren hillside into a fertile field is being ayyew. A gardener who transforms a fertile field into a biodiverse food forest is being ayyew.
An example of Ayyew in daily Igorot life is dealing with food left overs. Composting food leftovers to grow a garden would be more Ayyew than just throwing it away. However, even more Ayyew would be to feed the food leftovers to the pigs, who would both grow fat and provide even richer fertilizer for the garden.
The Ayyew word has no direct equivalent in Latin languages. Essentially it is the virtue of striving to be in ever more harmony with the surrounding ecological cycles. Ayyew is not a state of being, but a process of being. However, it is a directional process, one that leads to ever more abundance from ever more sync with the surrounding cycles of life.
Ayyew is a virtue or a “good thing” for Igorots, something that is good for individuals, households and community to strive for. In the same way as individual voices in a choir merge to attain otherwise impossible harmonies, their lives are integrated with the cycles of other species to achieve otherwise impossible health and abundance.
Because Ayyew is not a state but rather a process, it is non-judgemental of one’s present ecological state. In this way, an industrial farmer with a giant monocrop could be also be Ayyew (assuming they’ve shifted from striving from profit, to striving for ecological harmony.)
Likewise, from an Ayyew perspective plastic is not bad in and of itself. It is a material with certain properties and characteristics that can be put to use in different ways.
Interestingly enough, in the Igorot language, there was never a word for “waste” or “trash”*. From the ayyew perspective, nothing is innately useless. Instead, every material presents an opportunity that can be embraced– or not.
The concept of ayyew thus has great relevance for us in the ecological downturn of the 21st century as we strive to solve ecological challenges. Moving on from linear, black and white judgements, we can shift to sinking with cycles.
Ecobricking is a modern manifestation of the Ayyew concept with regard to our personal plastic.
For example, ecobricking one’s plastic is more Ayyew than recycling it: ecobricking puts the plastic to immediate local use whereas industrial recycling, involving transportation and far factories, is a longer more energy consuming process.
The Global Ecobrick Alliance’s development of ecobrick applications further reflects our aspiration to the virtue of Ayyew. Our first innovation for building modules with ecobricks was to use silicone. However silicone requires some (minimal) capital, and relies on non-local materials (the silicone and gun) and requires a specialized skill (using the caulking gun).
The latest innovation for using ecobricks uses old motorcycle inner tubes– which syncs with the local cycle of consumed and disposed tires, using them to everyone’s advantage. This is what the Igorots would call ‘nagagut‘ (“being industrious”, or “reflecting of Ayyew”).
Of course, its possible to strive and sync even better with the surrounding ecological cycles. An ayyew ecobricker strives to move from modules to gardens to earth and ecobrick green space structures that sequester plastic and CO2.
Inspired by this deep and powerful Igorot concept, the Global Ecobrick Alliance has developed our principles, techniques and applications around the concept of Ayyew. Ayyew fits in closely with regenerative philosophy and guided our development of the regenerative guiding principles. that underlie the work of the Global Ecobrick Alliance and the global ecobrick movement.
*In the Igorot, Kan’ka’nue language there was no term or concept for ‘waste’ prior to the arrival of the Spanish. The term ‘logit’ was the closest word, referring to ‘dirt’ or ‘something not where it should be’. From southern luzon Spanish influence, slowly the term ‘basura’ (trash in Spanish) made its way into the Illocano and Kan’ka’nue dialects.
Read more about the Ayyew concept in an essay by GEA principal Russell Maier:
The Asian ecobrick movement ignited in the villages of Mt. Province in 2011 when the government and people were faced with the crisis of the Chico Rivers pollution. Without any illusions of industrial solution, no one town or government could solve the problem of where to dump plastic waste. Ecobricking emerged as a simple solution that anyone could participate in to help prevent the contamination of the river. As ecobricks were made, ancetral principles of circular archetectural traditions inspired the development of ecobrick milstein modules and earth and ecobrick building.
Ecobricking is a what we call a regenerative technology. Rather than "sustaining" the status quo, we're careful that everything we do re-greens rather than greys.