International coastal clean upIt’s 3am in the Greenpeace office in Quezon City. Metro Manila is still suspiciously quiet, and the volunteer team still quite sleepy. We put on our Water Patrol shirts, get into the van, and get started for the long day coming ahead. Destination: Paete, in the province of Laguna; leitmotiv: “willing to get dirty cleaning up Laguna de Bay”.

The International Coastal Cleanup Day has been, to quote ICC Philippines, the largest volunteer effort for ocean's health. Held annually every third Saturday of September, people around the world gather on beaches, coasts, rivers, waterways and underwater dive sites to remove trash and record information on the debris collected.

Clean-up sites were established all around the Philippines this weekend (Metro Manila, Zambales, Cebu, Catanduanes…). Greenpeace and Ecowaste Coalition joined the Provincial Government of Laguna in the activity.

The Greenpeace team arrived around 6am at Paete Municipal Hall, where the participating students and residents were already gathering for the kick-off ceremony, with Psy’s “Gangnam Style” as soundtrack (it was effective in waking up and motivating everybody)!

The cleaning itself actually proceeds in two steps, the trash collection and the segregation.  While the students gathered a quite impressive large amount of trash and debris on the shore, Greenpeace set up the working space for the segregation, preparing the material (gloves and boots: safety first!) and the bins. And let’s not forget that we are in the Philippines, in the middle of the rainy season, so we also had to set up the tent… which proved to be very useful, as we were not at all spared by the rain that day!

international coastal clean upFundamentally the segregation activity was an  opportunity to educate and raise awareness on recycling. Greenpeace volunteers were working two by two with small groups of students to present them the basic principles and categories of trash. Recyclable items such as glass bottles, plastic bags and water bottles were collected in separate sacks to be sold to recycling centers.

Even though we prepared ourselves to “get dirty” before the activity, it was at the same time impressive, depressive and revolting to see the piles of trash. We lost count of the plastic wrappers and plastic bags thrown away on the beach, from instant coffee sachets to cream silk shampoo bottles, to phone chargers to soccer balls.

All in all, the event was a good learning experience for all the participants, brought face to face with the reality of waste production and the problems it has created. Few small-scale changes (reusable bags and recipients, trash recycling) can make a big difference, and this is what the Coastal Cleanup day is about.

Because when you see it with your own eyes, you can hardly remain indifferent.


Clemence Bourrin is an intern at World Fair Trade Organization.