Back from Travelling and Found Your … Plastic?

Sam Webster

We hear from Sam Webster as he returns from travelling the Philippines. See how his mission to clean up plastic from tourist spots went and what he now thinks the next steps should be…


After 3 weeks of island hopping with @RachaelWhelan in the Philippines I finally find myself with a spare day to write a brief overview of what we managed to accomplish on our trip.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

Raring to begin our mission of cleaning up plastic from well-used tourist trails, we found ourselves at a loose end… Why? Because there was no rubbish! Amazing. Whilst exploring the beaten paths of Cebu’s famous waterfall treks there was not a single piece of rubbish in sight. There were multiple bins including a system for separating plastics, metal cans and other waste. A delightful surprise and less work for us!

But not for long.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

It was whilst visiting the more remote places that we really started to see the impact of plastic waste despoiling this beautiful environment.

One agenda for our trip was to discover places away from the normal backpacking route. Neither of us enjoy being surrounded by crowds, or tourists jostling to take the best photo. So, we set ourselves the challenge of reaching a small province in the Philippines known as Romblon.

Our journey took 3 days.

40min flight from Cebu to Kalibo Airport, 90 min taxi from Kalibo Airport to Caticlan ferry port, 3hour ferry ride from Caticlan to Odiongan ferry port, 90min tuktuk ride from Odiongan to San Agustin ferry port … only to find there was no ferry that day. Instead we hitched a ride on a local fisherman’s outrigger paddle boat to reach our target island.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

Romblon Island, within the Romblon province is as remote as you can get. You would think that this far-away spot in the Pacific Ocean would be free of plastic waste. You would be wrong.

Sadly, it was the same with the other remote islands we visited; Bantanyan and Malapascua. Surely places so distant from mass tourism and commercialisation would be able to be kept clean by fairly simple living or villagers and fishermen simply picking up waste? Unfortunately, no. These remote islands were all hotspots for plastic waste. We can assume that this is sadly the case with multiple other tiny islands throughout the Philippines and the Indo-Pacific. From a drone’s point of view the white beaches may look pristine but it’s a different story when you’re walking along them.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

It soon became clear that single use plastic packaging plays a big part in the Filipino way of life; it prolongs the lifespan of most edible products sold in even the smallest settlement, making it a cheap, convenient, and in their view necessary option for shop keepers. Plastic packaging fills literally all of the stores, straws are put in every drink (we made a good habit of saying no to straws when ordering our drinks) and plastic cutlery is given out free with the plastic-wrapped food.

Throughout the trip we were lucky enough to find places where we could confidently leave our bags of rubbish, such as hostels and restaurants. From here they would be collected and transported back to the main cities for disposal. However, in many places within the Philippines this is not the case and often there will be no such system. Instead villagers will be left with no choice but to create a dumping and burning site, in turn despoiling some of their beautiful landscapes whilst releasing damaging chemicals into the atmosphere.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

Sadly, this is the case for many of the less economically developed countries around the world, often found in some of the most beautiful settings.

Personally, I believe that one of the best ways to combat the issue of plastic waste is to raise awareness, and for me that’s what this trip was about. To really generate change, we can shout about the issues facing our oceans and educate the likes of local villagers and those back home following on social media.

Photo: Sam Webster

Photo: Sam Webster

The solution starts with setting an example. Reduce your own demand for single use plastic and share with others why they too should adopt a more plastic-freer lifestyle.


Plastic Not Fantastic, part of our Research Series, highlights recent research efforts into the effects of plastic on marine life, and showcases organisations, individuals and initiatives fighting against the plastic tide

If you’ve enjoyed this article from Sam, follow him here @samjackwebster
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