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Filipino Culture of Littering

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filipino culture of litteringLittering in the Philippines

Filipino Culture of Littering

I love to go for walks in the countryside around the village my wife grew up located in Bohol. I always hope not to encounter the Filipino culture of littering.

The lush green vegetation with the occasional brightly colored tropical flower is beautiful.

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When I get to a high place on a hill, I look out over the deep green forest. It has a river running through the mountains to the shimmering sea. In the distance, I can see the green mountains of Cebu Island. The view is breath-taking.

Then I look at my walking companions my wife. I look at my two boys and some members of my wife’s family.  I can see great beauty in the Philippines.

Then I look at my tennis shoes. I see rubbish of all kinds everywhere. There is discarded paper, plastic, metal and cloth. Ah, the Filipino culture of littering. I am tempted to walk without looking at the ground. However, if I do that I will surely step in feces left from a dog, cat, goat, bird, cow, etc.

Is my title harsh?

My title, “Filipino Culture of Littering”, may sound a bit harsh.

Some might say, “People litter in every country.” This is, of course, true, but if I were to throw trash on the ground in my country the USA people around me would look at me like a Neanderthal.

There is social shame in littering in the USA. This has not always been the case at least not to my recollection. When I was born in 1965, the way I remember my early years is that trash was strewn about the side of the road almost everywhere in the USA.

At some point, there was an anti-littering campaign led by a crying Native American and Woodsy Owl. As a Cub Scout, I remember being part of a play to raise awareness to the problem and we went out and picked up trash from the side of the road.

Peoples attitudes about littering changed and I think it started with young people. Will the same happen in the Philippines? The USA no longer has a culture similar to the Filipino Culture of Littering.

Jeepney Litterbug

We had rented a jeepney and driver for a beach trip to Dubay Beach on nearby Panglao Island. The jeepney had been loaded with as much family, food, and friends as possible. We were en route when someone broke open a large bag of pork rinds, deliciously fried pork skins.

The pork rind bag was passed around to all who wanted them. Then it came to my attractive intelligent 18-year old college freshman niece. She ate the last pork rind. Next, she stuck the bag outside the opening of the jeepney and let the plastic bag fall to the shoulder of the road. The jeepney lumbered down the road without a thought.

I saw this and I was shocked that an intelligent young lady as she is would just throw a plastic bag out of a vehicle. She had grown up in the Filipino culture of littering. I wanted to say something to correct her, but no one in the jeepney full of our Filipino family and friends seemed to feel anything wrong had been done. I said nothing.

Food Court Lesson

My 14-year old son and I went for lunch to Jollibee in Alturas Mall, Tagbilaran City, Bohol and it was extremely crowded.

We got our food to go and took the food to the food court at the uppermost level of the mall to eat because we felt there would be an open table there. There weren’t many open tables there, but we found one.

When we were done eating, I decided to throw our trash away. I walked around with our trash for a few minutes and could not find a trash can. I just put our trash on an open table and left. In the Philippines almost, no one throws their trash in the trash can at a restaurant or food court when finished.

Trash cans are scarce. This isn’t littering because there are people whose job is to pick up the trash, but I think this system makes people feel that their trash is not their responsibility. Perhaps this contributes to the Filipino Culture of Littering? I was trying to take responsibility for our trash especially since Jollibee was not part of the food court. I accomplished nothing.

Hope Among the Dead

Litter in a cemetery

Litter in a cemetery

My wife, her mother and other family members and I visited my wife’s father’s grave in the cemetery near the village where my wife’s mom has lived all her 79 years. We noticed that the graveyard was covered with litter.

On the Sunday following our visit to the parish cemetery, we were in church and near the end of the service during the announcements my wife told me that the priest was talking about cleaning the litter from the cemetery and that he was requesting volunteers join him Wednesday at 3:00 pm to pick up trash in the cemetery.

At first, I thought I might go join in and help out, but then I thought about 3:00 pm is the hottest part of the day. I didn’t think many parishioners would help and I noted that the priest himself was rather rotund and was sweating profusely just performing the Mass at 6:30 am the coolest part of the day.

I don’t remember where I was at 3:00 pm on clean up Wednesday, but I wasn’t at the cemetery helping pick up litter.

On the Saturday morning after the litter pick-up, we visited our dead again at the cemetery and were shocked. All the large trash was gone as was most of the small litter. The priest and many parishioners must have worked hard to clean things up! Was this a possible step away from the Filipino culture of littering? I did nothing.

Possible Solution

Espera Oscar de Corti aka Iron Eyes Cody, the Italian-American actor who portrayed the crying Native American in the 1970’s anti-littering campaign died on January 4, 1999. Woodsy Owl has not been seen in years.

I guess if the “Filipino Culture of Littering” changes it will be under the leadership of the good people of the Philippines like the priest and parishioners I included in this article. As good a step as it is for people to go out and pick up litter that others have left the key, in my opinion, is to change the way people think about their trash.

My trash is my responsibility it needs to be properly disposed of by me. The “Keep America Beautiful” of the early 1970’s campaign did this and I think the Philippines needs something similar. Perhaps some of the readers of this article could submit name suggestions for Philippine anti-littering campaign in the comments section below. I felt guilty when I left the Philippines and returned to the “City of Oaks” for not saying, accomplishing or doing anything about littering. So, I wrote something.

Jay Stainback

Jay Stainback lives in Raleigh, NC, USA and is hoping/planning to retire to Bohol in about 10 years. He is married to his beautiful Filipina wife Juliet whom he met on-line. They were married 12/7/02 and have two boys’ ages 9 years old and 5 years old. Jay has visited the Philippines 4 times the first time 1 week, the 2nd time 2 weeks, the 3rd time for 3 weeks, the 4th time 4 weeks spending most of their time in Bohol.

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BF Turnbull
Guest

So sad.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi BF,

The first step in solving a problem is realizing there is one. Not sure what the next step is…that is up to each to decide. Thanks for your brief, but insightful comment!

Peace

Jay

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Jay: There is a cultural laziness here. In Japan, where a worked for a few years, there is no litter. And when you ask about this, people will tell you that it would bring personal shame upon a person to throw trash on the ground. Personal Shame, hmm. There are no such, cultural beliefs here, a sense of personal responsibility for such things, taught or learned. Oh there are attempts by the government. “Separate Your Garbage” and such programs, but it is always easier to ignore these things and just do, whatever. Whatever takes less effort. I believe the thinking… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Rob, Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I find it strange how Filipinos who in a lot of ways are neat clean and orderly on a personal level do not or have not yet seen the need to keep up the appearance of what is in a lot of ways one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. I do think there has been some improvements perhaps brought on by President Duterte. I noticed on our walks some plastic bags on trees by the road and my wife said they have started having trash pick up one day a week.… Read more »

Bob Martin
Guest

Here in Davao City, we have trash pickup 5 days per week. Duterte implemented this here many years ago. It is free, we pay only through our local taxes.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Bob,

That is a good thing that President Duterte started perhaps he will be the one to start the change of attitude about litter! I think it will need to start with the young and will take years though. Thanks for the information and giving me the forum here on the LiP to bring this issue to light!

Peace

Jay

Stephen Monk
Guest

It’s one of the worlds treasures and I love the Philippines- I hope one day the people of PHP become aware of what they have and start taking care of their country like most others around the world

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Stephen,

Agreed on all points! I think the people of the Philippines will and I hope it happens soon. I admire many aspects of Filipino Culture, but I hope the culture of littering changes. Thanks for commenting!

Peace

Jay

Denzil Browne
Guest

The best way to deal with this is education and laws – an ad campaign on TV and posters would help. Kids taught in school not to litter will bring that back home and to their communities everyday..

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Denzil,

I agree it should start with the young people. My recollection is that in the USA the anti-littering campaign was largely a youth movement. Also you are right on fines now in the USA some places you can be fined $1,000 for littering. I think a 1,000 peso fine would get a lot of attention. Thanks for sharing!

Peace

Jay

frank
Guest

I saw a few weeks ago, signs in Manila going up to warn against littering, 500 P fines…it seems to be slowly working, ever since Duterte took over there has been action…for littering Luzon seems to be the worst, Manila and Angeles I noticed are terrible, trash everywhere…many parts of Mindanao are much cleaner or more or less trash free, like Camiguin, Hinatuan,Davao …any other places?

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Frank,

Thanks for your comments! I am glad that President Duterte is addressing this issue. I think a 500 peso fine will make a lot of people think before littering!

Peace

Jay

David Bennett
Guest

When I go to the ATM – there is usually a big pile of receipts laying on the ground. I always ask my self – why don’t people just take it with them and throw it away properly?

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi David,

I don’t know…I think people don’t realize that small pieces of trash add up especially if there are 100,000.000 people or so, that aren’t taking responsibility for there own waste. Hopefully this will change. Thanks for commenting!

Peace

Jay

John Reyes
Guest
John Reyes

Hi Jay – Here is what I observe: the poorer and less-educated the individual, the more likely he/she is going to litter. But this can be said for anywhere. In the Philippines, though, what may have started as a way of life (culture) since the Spanish times is changing, though slowly, with the emergence of a class of Filipino who not only are well-educated, but well-heeled. Today, one can visit highly developed areas in major urban centers like Makati, Ortigas, or The Fort (Bonifacio Global City), and be impressed by how litter- free the streets are. This is an end… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi John,

You bring up good points about poverty and education! Thanks for the information about the conditions in some of the major urban areas. I do think education is the key along with enforcement of anti-littering laws.

Peace

Jay

papaduck
Guest
papaduck

John,
I agree with you mostly, but you can’t use the excuse of being poor as the reason to litter, no matter where you live. Another reason why Makati, Ortigas and the Fort are clean is they are also big tourist areas.

John Reyes
Guest
John Reyes

Not at all, Randy. Not trying to use the excuse of being poor as the reason to litter. What I am trying to point out is that littering in the Philippines is not necessarily a product of culture, because if that were the case, we can also say the “American culture of littering” given that the same trashy conditions can also be found in any inner-city ghetto in the United States. just to name a few: Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Southeast D.C. Littering, in my mind, is more a product of the socio-economic status of the individual than it is… Read more »

frank
Guest

Makati is FAR from clean…other places did not visit…

frank
Guest

Makati is most definitely not litter free, in fact I made a video on my Youtube channel(search for Francois Williams for my channel – then morning walk in Makati) plenty of rubbish, ciggerette butts and old dirt all around…real eyesores…plz check it…

Emerson Dorothy
Guest

I see the sane thing David, then as im driving down the road, i see plastic cups and trash thrown from cars, without any regard to the damage they are causing and the unsightly mess

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Emerson,

Thanks for sharing your experience of this problem! The roadways in the Philippines are certainly a mess.

Peace

Jay

Allan Aitken
Guest

It’s an offence to litter in the SBMA area so some people will put their wrappers or bits of rubbish in their pocket, but as soon as they cross the bridge into Olongapo they’ll empty their pockets & throw it on the ground. Go figure.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Alan,

Thanks for the specific information about SBMA and Olongapo. I think your comment and John Reyes’ may be somewhat related. I suspect the areas he mentioned have anti-littering laws that are enforced. I think laws and enforcement of laws can be a form of education and in time the situation can improve.

Peace

Jay

frank
Guest

Places like Davao, Camiguin,Hinatuan I have seen the laws enforced, sadly for the rest no ways…

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Frank,

Perhaps with President Duterte’s leadership enforcement will spread to the rest of the Philippines.

Peace

Jay

James Barnes
Guest
James Barnes

I live in the US and i have never been anywhere is this country where litter is not a problem, so it is not just the Philippines. And like you said, when I pick up trash in the Philippines, there is nowhere to go with it, or i would probably spend all my time picking up trash.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi James, I live in the USA and you are correct litter is still a problem in the USA, but I do think there is a difference in that there is a general social stigma against littering in the USA that is not present in the Philippines at least in most areas. Sadly I think the USA may be changing for the worse. I work at a sub-urban high school and the student parking lot is strewn with litter every day by young people coming back from off-campus lunch. Most of the students at the school I work at come… Read more »

Jay Alexander
Guest
Jay Alexander

Pollution is a serious problem in the Philippines; understatement of the year. Pollution is a cultural problem that requires a cultural shift in values. When I recently saw a mural project involving dozens of high school students led by a small group of adults, I became curious. When I learned that the theme was to address litter, I grew excited. The following week, I returned to appreciate their work. I was impressed with their creativity and talent. I was also shocked because amidst all of the mini-murals, paint brushes, paint cans and water bottles and wrappers were left behind… somehow,… Read more »

Jay
Guest
Jay

Hi Jay,

Thanks for sharing your experience! Changing a culture is a difficult challenge. I think it takes leadership, education, commitment, enforcement and time. I hope that the change happens.

Peace

Jay

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