GUIDELINES FOR ZERO WASTE FIESTAS: Towards a Zero Waste Celebration of Faith and Life

Our country, the Philippines, is truly the “Fiesta Islands.” Across the length and breadth of our 42,000 barangays, countless festivals are celebrated yearly often in honor of a community’s patron saint. As a central event in the community life, the fiesta is marked with a profusion of religious rites and devotions, colors and glitters, and festivities carried out with utmost delight, spending spree and typical wastefulness. Fiestas bring people together in a celebration of our rich cultural heritage, enabling families, neighbors and communities to rekindle the spiritual ties, to honor ethnic roots and renew relationships, to feed and entertain guests, and to partake in a spectacle of drama, excitement and fun. While the Comite de Festejos elaborately plan for the various activities to mark our religious heritage, the fiesta’s environmental impacts are hardly ever considered. Unknown to many, our customary feasts and rites, fairs and concerts, parades and pageants, caracol (street dancing), fireworks displays and even our salo-salo can severely spoil the environment, set off pollution and climate change. For instance, the wasteful use of materials, electricity and water, the penchant for single-use plastic and other disposables, the lack of ecological system for reducing and managing discards, the bursting of firecrackers or the burning of used plastic buntings or PVC-coated tarpaulin can cause stress and damage to our ecosystems and impair the health of humans and other creatures that inhabit the Mother Earth with climate changing greenhouse gases, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and other harmful chemicals. From being unmindful of the environmental consequences of our vibrant community celebrations, the Ecological Waste Coalition of the Philippines (or the EcoWaste Coalition) invites the churches, fiesta organizers, local authorities, families and other concerned sectors and groups to pay serious attention in reducing the fiesta’s health and environmental impacts, and strive to transform the fiesta into a “zero waste celebration of life.” To assist the Comite de Festejos and others involved in organizing the fiesta, we offer some ideas and recommendations as to how we can celebrate without causing further damage to our ecosystems that are crying for healing and protection. As the Bishops said in their most thought-provoking pastoral letter on ecology: “This is our home; we must care for it, watch over it, protect it and love it. We must be particularly careful to protect what remains of our forests, rivers, and corals and to heal, wherever we can, the damage which has already been done.” “The relationship which links God, human beings and all the community of the living together is emphasized in the covenant which God made with Noah after the flood. The rainbow which we still see in the sky is a constant reminder of this bond and challenge (Gen 9:19). This covenant recognizes the very close bonds which bind living forms together in what are called ecosystems. The implications of this covenant for us today are clear. As people of the covenant, we are called to protect endangered ecosystems, like our forests, mangroves and coral reefs and to establish just human communities in our land.” (CBCP Pastoral Letter on Ecology, “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land,” 1988) We can make our fiesta a fitting expression of our communion as stewards of Mother Nature by striving to reduce waste to zero or darn near, preventing all forms of pollution, conserving water, electricity and other resources, and saving funds for basic needs and charities.
I. PLAN THE FEAST WITH THE ENVIRONMENT IN MIND Put the environmental concerns in the consciousness of the Comite de Festejos and agree on implementing steps towards an ecological fiesta. Identify the health and environmental consequences of each activity being planned, and seek ways for minimizing, if not eliminating, their adverse effects to community health and environment.
II. GET THE COMMUNITY INFORMED, EXCITED AND ENGAGED Tap all available means to educate community members about the intent to make the fiesta environment-friendly. Spread the news through the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs), lay associations and movements. Involve the Barangay Captain and her/his kagawad and tanod, the Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) and the neighborhood associations. Go all-out to organize a broad constituency for the initiative. A youth-driven community information and clean up drive will contribute to raising public awareness and generate interest and support for a “green” fiesta, especially among the young people. Volunteers from the SK and other youth groups can form themselves into “ecowaste patrols” to ensure that ecological practices in managing discards are duly observed, particularly in key fiesta events.
III. WALK THE TALK – “GREEN” THE CHURCH Together with the Priest and the Parish Pastoral Council, demonstrate the genuine commitment of the Church to bring about changes for the benefit of the environment. What the Church does will hopefully filter down into making the homes and other community institutions ecological havens as well. These are some concrete measures that the Parish can do to “green” the Church.

  • Implement a green procurement policy (e.g., buy products that use less packaging and are reusable or easily recyclable in the community).
  • Segregate and recycle discarded resources from the Church premises, including offices, canteen, toilet etc. Compost – do not burn – dried up flowers, fallen leaves and garden trimmings.
  • Establish the Parish Ecology Center (EC) or Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where church members can bring recyclable materials that can later be sold to support church scholars or other benevolent endeavors. The Parish EC or MRF should have a storage space for clean recyclables, a composting area and, if space allows, a garden where vegetables or flowers can be grown organically using the byproduct compost.
  • Respond to the socio-economic, health, spiritual and other basic needs of local waste pickers by integrating them into the Parish ecology program and exploring potential partnership for safe and sustainable livelihood.
  • Adopt a policy of not using Styrofoam or plastic disposables for all Church functions, including meetings, fellowships and formation programs as well as baptismal, birthday and wedding receptions and funeral wakes held in Church facilities.
  • Implement a “Say No to Plastic Bags” policy in the Parish store and persuade parishioners to go for bayong or other reusable carry bags made of cloth or recycled discards.
  • Opt for energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) and in the long-term plan for a solar-powered Church.

IV. GO FOR ZERO WASTE RITES AND EVENTS What the late Jaime Cardinal Sin said on the occasion of the 4th World Meeting of Families in 2003 that was hosted by the Philippines remains relevant in our day. Cardinal Sin exhorted the faithful to make the global assembly a “zero waste celebration of life,” outlining four basic steps such as 1) minimize the creation of waste by using as few resources as possible at the various events, 2) avoid using plastic and disposable items, 3) separate discards into biodegradable and non-biodegradable, and 4) put them into their proper containers to facilitate recycling and make simpler the work of cleaners and collectors. “By doing the above, we affirm the role of the Family and the Church as stewards of His creation (Gen. 2:19-20) and proclaim our oneness in choosing life so that our heirs and we will live (Dt. 30:19-20). By ensuring that nothing is wasted (Jn. 6;12), we make it known that the Christian Family is an active participant in healing and restoring the beauty of our ravaged land,” explained Cardinal Sin. Towards a “zero waste celebration of life,” consider the following: a. Fairs and Events. Prevent the creation of waste in festive activities such as variety shows, beauty pageants, talent contests and street parties. At the minimum, event organizers should be responsible in arranging for recycling stations with clearly labeled bins for biodegradable and non-biodegradable discards. Volunteers should be designated in every recycling station to encourage and guide the public on the proper sorting of their discards. Food concessionaires and vendors should be persuaded against using disposable containers and utensils, and encouraged to use reusable or biodegradable alternatives such as banana leaves. b. Banners. PVC-coated tarpaulin is widely used as banner or billboard for announcing fiesta activities. When it is no more useful, the material is discarded, dumped and often burned along with other unwanted materials, releasing highly toxic chemicals such as dioxins. Canvass, coco cloth and taffeta can be used instead for making streamers. Better still, opt for more creative methods for public information such as house-to-house visitation, street theater in public market or plaza, “wall news” using old calendars or posters etc. c. Buntings. Colorful banderitas flutter the Church patio and the streets during fiesta time. The banderitas of today are mostly made from product advertisements in plastic, thin plastic carry bags, and plastic straws and strings. After the fiesta, the buntings end up being dumped or burned. It is also not uncommon for the bungtings to be left hanging on the streets until the materials drop or are blown away. In lieu of plastic buntings, the Comite de Festejos can tap neighborhood tailors to sew reusable buntings from fabric scraps. Alternatively, colored cloth banners hanging or drooping from bamboo poles can be used to create the festive spirit. Do not forget to remove, wash and store the reusable buntings and banners for future use. Decorations fashioned out from locally available biodegradable materials, like the colorful “kiping” of Lucban, Quezon, should be promoted. d. Candles. Burning too much candles in a poorly ventilated setting can be bad for the lungs and trigger respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Lit just enough candles and improve ventilation to minimize pollution. Refrain from using candles that produce excessive soot that can aggravate respiratory illnesses. Steer clear of candles with metal wicks, which may contain harmful chemicals such as lead. Collect melted candles for recycling. To cut on church expense for candles, make lamps from used cooking oil. e. Flowers. It is customary to offer flowers and adorn the Church with intricate arrangements of blooms and leaves, which should be composted later, or, if suitable, dried and used for decorating cards or as air freshener. Refrain from adding unnecessary plastic ribbon and wrap to flower offerings. The use of pesticides in cut flowers is a serious health and environmental matter. As a substitute to pesticide-laden flowers, the Church can encourage parishioners to offer or lend home-grown plants and flowers for a truly “green” offering. f. Processions. The fiesta culminates with a solemn candlelight procession in honor of Jesus Christ, the Blessed Mother or the patron Saint of the parish. Such display of devotion and piety can be potentially damaging due to particle pollution from burning candles and torches, bursting firecrackers and littering. To lessen the environmental impacts of processions, we can use fewer and better candles. Daylight procession will, of course, lessen the need for candles. Do not lit up firecrackers and litter the Church patio and processional route. Use rechargeable batteries, if needed, to light up the carroza. g. Fireworks. Lighting firecrackers releases assorted chemicals and fine particulates that aggravate the air quality, causing throat and chest congestion and other health problems, notably for people with asthma and chemical allergies. Noise-sensitive groups suffer a lot from exploding firecrackers. Firecrackers are unnecessary and money spent for buying them can be saved to pay for essential needs. h. Sounds. Enjoy the event with good music but be mindful of the noise you create. Consider your neighbors when you pump up your karaoke’s volume. Exposure to loud noise in a longer period can be detrimental to one’s hearing acuity. i. Parlor Games. Select fun games that will not cause physical injuries to contestants and spectators alike. Food is sacred, so refrain from wasting edible stuff such as eggs and eggplants, for fun games. Have fun without wasting food that should be eaten or shared with the needy. Eating contests are fine, so long as nothing is wasted. As for the game prizes, organizers may consider giving away gifts unwrapped. If presents need to be wrapped, use reusable basket, bandana or cloth bags.
V. WASTE NOT THE SALO-SALO Simple planning and creativity can lead to a gratifying greener and fairer time-honored fiesta salo-salo. Here are some practical ideas on how to feed your guests without ripping your purse or causing injuries to Mother Earth:

  • Plan the menu and only buy what is necessary to prepare sufficient servings for your household members and visitors.
  • Buy condiments in bulk and store in reusable bottles, shakers or dispensers.
  • Serve food in reusable plates, and avoid using throwaway Styrofoam, plastic cup and cutlery to cut on expense and waste.
  • If reusable plates are not enough, opt for banana leaves placed on a native plate (e.g., neto) in lieu of single-use paper plates.
  • Use cloth napkins that can be washed and used again in future occasions.
  • Offer water or healthy drinks made from lemon grass (tanlad), young coconut (buko) with pandan, ginger (salabat) with calamansi. Serve water or drinks in reusable cups or glasses.
  • Share excess food to neighbors. Reach out to the homeless and those lacking in food and nutrition.
  • Save food discards for animal consumption or composting.
  • Segregate and recycle discarded resources. Do not mix, dump or burn your discards.
  • Decorate with plants and other greenery instead of plastic banners or balloons.

Go for an earth-friendly fiesta! For more information, please contact the Ecowaste Coalition at 9290376 or e-mail us at ecowastecoalition@yahoo.com

EcoWaste Coalition
Unit 320, Eagle Court Condominium, Matalino St.
Quezon City, Philippines
+63 2 9290376