Sustainability: Eco-friendly alternatives or responsible consumption?

Do we really need to choose “eco-friendly” alternatives or do we simply need to consume responsibly? There are always two sides to a coin, especially in maintaining our natural environment amid the cost of human life, or aptly, environmental sustainability—if it does really exist.




Eco-friendly alternatives

A young whale was found in March this year, swimming while it vomited blood into the waters of Davao Gulf. When it shortly died, researchers picked up its body and found 88 pounds of plastic waste bursting out of its belly. In reality, whales do die, but not usually from plastic waste it unknowingly consumed.

We now find our trash wherever, including places humans haven’t been close to, or in places where it shouldn’t be, like outside trash cans and worse, inside an animal’s stomach.

Even it might actually be a little late, this year has been a time of social breakthroughs advocating to flip our fortune in terms of environmental demise. These movements, whether it be large or small-scale, are further amplified online where most individuals—especially the youth—are onboard. However, despite these alternative opts of switching plastics to paper and tote bags, or using metal straws instead of plastics among many, the question is:  are these really sustainably and directly helpful to Earth?

The answer is yes.

By definition of American professor Baird Callicott, sustainability means “meeting human needs without compromising the health of ecosystems.” Meanwhile, in a broader sense, “environmental sustainability” means “meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” It all comes down to the swinging equilibrium of meeting needs and destroying our own home, a paradox deeply instilled in the way we’ve designed our lives to function. In the onslaught of our resources’ depletion and ecological destruction due to humankind, the concept of “environmental sustainability” sets in prominently now more than ever. It is perhaps because Earth has become the worst through time as well. Though it may be a long shot for us, the collective effects of the “sustainable” shift makes a huge difference through time.

It’s was as early as the 2000s when cities and municipalities in the Philippines started to ban plastic. This is a likely case of intervention especially given that the country is one of five countries that produce half of world’s plastic waste along China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to the United Nations. Worse than this is how half of all plastic produced all over the world is designed for single use. Paper bags and tumblers instead of plastic bags and plastic bottles are the most common prompts taken into action. Little by little, people have started to adapt eco-friendly means, for the cause and for its beneficial durability.

Relatively, when a heartbreaking video of a sea turtle in pain as a plastic straw was being pulled out of its nostril went viral, it has since then been a face of anti-plastic movement. The video uploaded by marine biologist Christine Figgener in 2015 still continues to be part of the conversation as people get more conscious of plastic usage. The wave of corporate plastic straw ban worldwide came thereafter and has birthed the use of metal straws. Here in the Philippines, reusable and washable metal, bamboo, and leaf-made straws are sold. Local private companies also came to action by offering reusable cups and straws, which is a vital move for their role in addressing these challenges and minimizing their own environmental impact.


Responsible consumption

Life is a physically consumptive process and it’s unfortunate that to sustain life, we need to continuously produce waste. The Philippines alone produces 35,000 tons of trash daily as per the Asian Development Bank—which leads us to this question: Is it really possible to live sustainably in a consumptive society as ours?

If your answer is yes, then British professor Christopher Barnatt disagrees. In his article published by The Guardian titled Is sustainability a dangerous myth fueling over consumption? Barnatt said sustainable living is impossible.

In fact, sustainability is not as simple as buying tote bags and metal straws like what most of us might think—there is more to understand and to do to achieve its integration in our daily lives.

“Sadly right now, sustainability has become a trendy obsession,” Barnatt said. Today, more and more people have turned to sustainable living. People have replaced plastic bags with tote bags, plastic straws with metal ones, and plastic cups with sustainable bottles or mason jars. This may sound like good news for many but this is where the dilemma on sustainability enters.

“Companies are now marketing to the green consumer,” Kristin Toussaints had this observation in her article Metal straws, mason jars, bamboo forks: do you have to buy more stuff to go zero waste? “And though there are clear environmental benefits to this, some zero wasters are concerned that this push to buy green products ignores those other two Rs of the environmentalist mantra: reduce and reuse.” Turns out, our consumption can be very problematic even if we already knew sustainability and call ourselves sustainable.

Take this scenario as an example: when you buy a metal straw, they are often wrapped in plastic packaging while its brush is made up of plastic bristles. This can be similar when buying sustainable bottles as they are contained in carton boxes. The bottom line? You may be producing more carbon footprint and more waste than you should be as you live sustainably.

Sustainability doesn’t start and end in responsible consumption, waste management also plays a vital role. Sustainable solid waste management means “proper managing of solid waste in order to minimize environmental degradation, reduce consumption of energy, reduce the use of virgin materials through recycling as well as prevent pollution and contamination of land, air and water, on which sustainability of cities rest.” According to the Solid Waste Management Association of the Philippines, national and local government units must seriously implement the national law on solid waste management while “people must not only follow the law but by their own volition must help to conserve precious resources by not being wasteful with the resources that they possess.”


An effective and complete sustainable program includes elaborate efforts, as our deep-rooted environmental dilemmas are huge and complex to begin with. It’s true, there is a big question whether the principle of sustainability lies on design or use.

Either way, they both respond to the immediate need of the environment: action.


Text by Jomar Villanueva and Kelsey Telo
Art by Andrew Encapas for Heraldo Filipino Vol. 33 Issue 4

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