There were food wrappers, handbags, umbrellas, plastic bags, toothbrushes and slippers littering the shore when a motley group composed of a thousand volunteers showed up for the annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). The venue was the 175-km stretch of Freedom Island Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area along Manila Bay.
On that overcast Saturday morning, way before the 6 a.m. call time, students, families, private organizations, government agencies and even corporate CEOs cheerfully marched along the kilometer-long dirt road, armed with garbage disposal bags, brooms, shovels, rakes and their big, generous hearts.
They wove through tents and vehicles, each searching for their assigned cleanup areas in the large marine habitat and bird sanctuary located at the boundary of Las Piñas and Parañaque.
Lost in the sea of volunteers in sneakers or muddy rubber boots, old jeans, tees and rubber gloves was US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry K. Thomas Jr. and Sen. Cynthia Villar. Also in the crowd were 150 volunteers from the Coca-Cola Femsa (Fomento Económico Mexicano, S.A.B. de C.V.) Philippines, the largest beverage company in Mexico and Latin America, and the largest independent Coca-Cola bottler in the world.
Coca-Cola Femsa CEO Juan Ramon Felix said that while it was their first time to join ICC in the Philippines, the beverage company has been participating for the past 12 years in coastal, riverside and lakeshore cleanups in Mexico and Latin America. The ICC has been around for almost three decades now, growing larger each year as more and more people volunteer for the cleanup.
According to the Washington-based organization Ocean Conservancy, some 561,633 people participated in the ICC worldwide last year, collecting 10,149,988 lbs of trash that covered a total area of 17,719 miles.
In the Philippines, 143,948 volunteers collected 1.3 million kg of debris from shorelines around the country. Cigarettes, plastic bags, eating utensils, diapers, beverage containers, shoes and slippers were among the top items collected.
“We believe our employees need to be relevant and active members of the society,” said Juan C. Dominguez, the Colombian human resource and corporate affairs director of Coca-Cola Femsa, Asia division.
Present in 10 countries including Mexico, Latin America and the Philippines, Coco-Cola Femsa also develops water-based projects for local communities in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank.
“You can have clean water but if you put them in unclean receptacles, then the water is already contaminated. We are looking at a water-purification project in the Philippines, particularly in the urban areas, because a lot of work has already been done in the provincial areas. Water in cities like Manila, Davao and Cebu are, for many communities, a big issue,” he said.
An example, he said, is Pasig River, where families that are supposedly privileged to be living near a body of water have the misfortune of being unable to tap that natural resource. Apart from contaminated water, he said, there is also the danger the communities face during typhoons, when the river swells and destroys homes.
Water-purification plants in Mexico, Costa Rica and Colombia handled by the community are able to purify water with things as simple as salt, noted Dominguez.
“We are looking into the communities around the Pasig River. Water initiative is a never-ending journey and it needs to be fully accessed in order to understand its impact.”
The Freedom Island Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area is a haven for bird watchers. It serves as a sanctuary for about a dozen bird species, including birds from as far away as Siberia. Debris collected were logged in data sheets for analysis by the ICC and Ocean Conservancy.
The ICC was first held in Texas, US, in 1986. It has since collected 144,606,491 lbs of trash over the past 25 years.