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Green Progress: Marco Lobregat On Cleaning Up Lanao del Sur and the Problem of Plastic Waste Pollution

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The digital marketer and innovator says we all play a role in tackling these green issues—”Let’s not wait for anyone else.”

Serendipity brought Marco Lobregat to join the clean-up initiative of Barangay Lorenzo. He happened to be visiting the hometown of his dad, former Zamboanga Mayor Celso, in Balabagan, Lanao del Sur. Lobregat’s uncle Jomar brought him to help out with the program.

“They were saying [to] meet with them and see what their initiatives are. Maybe you can help them, and that was it,” he recounts the conversation with his uncle. From the barangay captain, the council, teachers, students, to young entrepreneurs, they diligently work on the clean-up every Sunday.

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From left: Marco Lobregat; The Balabagan River in Lanao del Sur (Photo from About Cagayan de Oro)

Beauty of nature

The clean-up efforts started in the Balabagan River. “When I saw it, [I was] shocked. It’s beautiful. It’s a cold-water spring [that] flows throughout the whole barangay [and other] areas,” Lobregat describes. The crystal-clear waters move in powerful currents that eventually open into the ocean. “It was so fascinating to see the ecosystem.”

While there is a rich natural system and an abundance of Gotu Kala (plants commonly used in Traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine), the river is starting to get clogged with waste. All sorts of trash, especially plastic, is infiltrating and destroying the site.

So, the local crew began cleaning up the site every Sunday—one purok (a sub-village of a barangay) at a time. “Right now, everything goes to a dumpsite,” Lobregat continues. His uncle Jomar provides the truck to haul the waste. At the same time, the barangay is working to properly segregate all these.

Lobregat helps pick up the trash infiltrating the cold-water spring

Pushing forward

Efforts have begun but it may not be a good long-term solution to address the waste pollution in the barangay and the municipality as a whole. “People are getting desensitized to the trash in some areas,” Lobregat shares.

In his family’s resort alone, La Vista del Mar, they pick up so much trash from the sea. He shares that the barangay has created and implemented a few policies on proper waste management. But, as Lobregat explains, these are not working.

“I’m not an expert,” he clarifies, highlighting he takes things from his observations. But based on his experiences, he believes people should do their part as well, help in whatever way they can. “Let’s not wait for anyone else,” he says.

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Plastic trade

Fortunately, he came across Plastic Credit Exchange (PCEx) founded by philanthropist Nanette Medved-Po. The non-profit partners with businesses around the globe in offsetting their plastic footprint and seeking environmentally sound solutions to plastic waste reduction.

Beyond educating people about segregation, the plastic exchange program allows smaller communities to thrive. Aling Tindera is another initiative to empower sari-sari store owners to get involved in the plastic trade. After all, the store is where most plastics come from. “We’re able to turn plastic into funds because people are buying it… and they’re able to actually create a livelihood.”

Other partners turn these plastics or PET bottles into energy or eco-friendly materials for infrastructure use. “This hasn’t started yet in Zamboanga… but I got wind of this and started getting involved. Now we’ve already identified the initial locations for Aling Tindera.”

The locals washing their clothes in the clear river

Individual roles

“The entire truth [is] that all of us are to blame and all of us are responsible,” Lobregat says about the growing climate crisis. “Start with whatever you can around you.”

As governments, organizations, and companies around the world are playing their part, so should individuals. “I don’t think there’s a perfect system but it’s a choice [like] lifestyle choices.” Be it recycling and promoting it, using sustainable materials, and helping non-profits in their environmental advocacies, everyone can and should lend a hand.

“I think you can only really see progress if you’re really having a connection with the community,” he adds. “I’ve stayed in touch with [Balabagan], and I actually planned to go back and do a few things.” Currently, the initiatives are targeting the river but eventually, the barangay is expanding to the nearby beach. Lobregat hopes this will also be done on a larger scale.

“You might see more problems first,” he admits. “But then you keep applying yourself and you start solving the problems and [that’s when] you’ll start seeing progress.”

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