Living the Plastic-Free Lifestyle: Yes to Eco Bags and No to Straws


My family recently relocated to Marikina and my husband started work in Makati City a few weeks ago.

Having come from a town in Bulacan where plastic and styrofoam litter the streets every day, it was a pleasant surprise to see these two cities practicing the plastic-free way of life.

It’s not easy adjusting to the changes, as people can sometimes be very stubborn. Shop owners and restaurants are forced to post copies of the ordinance banning the use of plastics in these two cities.

From what I know, other cities in Metro Manila are scheduled to follow suit. So, if you’re still using plastic bags and styrofoam products, you better start preparing now than be surprised when your local butcher hands you your purchases in a flimsy, brown bag.

Brown bags and Eco Bags

I have taken for granted the convenience of having plastic bags when grocery shopping. I could only shake my head in disbelief the first time my frozen food purchases were stuffed in flimsy brown bags and handed to me just like that.

I could not argue with the bagger because I could read the “zero plastic” sign very clearly at the cashier’s.

I wanted to argue that the frozen items would start to thaw the minute I leave the grocery and that the brown bag they gave me would be reduced to pulp in a matter of minutes.

But hey, rules are rules. Besides, the cashier gave me a look that said “you should have brought your own shopping bag!” and that left me feeling like an irresponsible citizen.

It was good that a few aisles down they had eco bags for sale.

At first I thought “negosyo na naman to!” since malls and other establishments stood to earn a bit more from selling these bags. However,  the bags turned out to be really helpful and reusable too.

Older citizens would still remember the time when they brought a native basket or a bayong to the wet market. Gone are those days, along with the literal fresh chicken which got butchered only when you bought it.

But it seems that the new environment-friendly regulations will stick but in a new paradigm and backed up by law and logic.

Always carry a spare bag

Warning: do not use eco bags in the rain, they are made of paper and pulp and could literally melt. A better alternative will be cloth bags – made of canvas or old denims. These turned out to be more sturdy alternatives and can be washed.

I now bring a couple of these whenever I go to the groceries or wet markets.

Since we moved back to Marikina, we have picked up the habit of always carrying a spare bag wherever we go. These are small eco bags or cloth ones which can be folded and stuffed into a handbag or backpack.

This is in case we need to buy something – some pan de sal for merienda or vials of medicine from the drugstore. Everything gets stuffed into a brown bag. If you don’t want to be picking up items from the street, learn to bring your own reusable bag.

Of Straws and Utensils

Weeks into the implementation of the zero plastic and styrofoam law in Makati City and food establishments are on the receiving end of flak from its customers. I’ve found out that there are still some surprises along with the rules.

The ordinance against palstic was passed as early as 2003. However, it seems that the implementing guidelines still had a lot of problems. I just realized this when I went to a McDonald’s branch in Greenbelt and bought take-out spaghetti and a soda float.

I asked for a spoon and fork, still expecting plastic utensils to go with the bag. I was informed that they did not have any plastic utensils. On top of that, when I asked for a straw, only then did they did include the plastic straw. I was informed that they were still in the process of getting paper straws which would work with the soda float.

Regular paper straws are not strong enough to go through the ice cream.

For dine-in clients, the fast food place had metal utensils.

Picture a busy lunch hour at McDonald’s Greenbelt 1 with expats screaming for straws to go with their Coke Zeros. One young lady even pointed to my Coke float with a bright red straw and challenged the manager, saying: how come she has one?

I nearly got up and told her that I had to fight for my straw too.

According to a member of the store crew who requested that I keep her name a secret, this has been a common occurrence since Makati adopted the all-out ban on plastics and styrofoam in late June.

Besides shifting to paper-based containers (take a look at the Mc Spaghetti container) instead of styrofoam products, the stores also had to be very careful in giving out plastic straws. Dine-in drinks no longer get straws (if you order a float, you can get one if you fight for it) and take-out food does not come with plastic utensils.

She added that this caused a lot of problems between store management and clients who demand plastic utensils and straws.

Another problem they are experiencing now that they’ve switched to actual spoons and forks is pilferage. There are customers who intentionally pocket the spoons and forks and it will only be a matter of time before the store runs out of utensils.

Time to Prepare

While we sympathize with both customers and fastfood store management on this issue, it is important to note that they were given ample time to prepare for this change to zero plastic living. The city odinance was passed years ago, and the implementing guidelines have been issued early enough for owners of food establishments to exert due diligence.

There was enough time to source paper straws and more than enough time to prepare customers for the fact that they will no longer be receiving straws with their drinks orders.

Truth be told, the solution to this problem can be a simple poster, or sign at the door saying “We Don’t Give Plastic Straws” . At least the customers know what what to expect. If they are too attached to their straws, they can just walk out the door and try to find another establishment that serves plastic.

After the Dust Settles

In due time, the implementation details will be clearer. In the meantime, these birthing pains will be a source of problems from irate diners asking for plastic straws and utensils.

In some instances, this should not be a problem. For sandwiches, there would be no need for utensils and for Asian cuisine, chopsticks could be provided. But for mainstream Pinoy food, the famous pancit habhab would be ahead, or kamayan, would be a possible solution.

There are advantages and disadvantages for a plastic-free environment, and the solutions would come in due time. It just needs more work and plenty of patience – from both sides.

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