In the past decade, there’s a good chance that at least one of the many “eco-friendly” goods popping up online have made their way into your bag. Reusable totes, metal straws, and tumblers for your hot and cold drinks are just a few of the trendy products we use as we do our part to save the earth.
If you bought yours from some stall at your local mall or a fancy online shop, they probably didn’t come cheap. Sets of metal straws, for example, range in cost from Php50 to Php1,000, depending on where you shop. One set usually includes 2-4 straws in different sizes, a brush for cleaning, and some kind of carrying pouch. The demand for metal straws soared after a video of a team of scientists removing a plastic straw from a sea turtle’s nostril (warning: disturbing content) went viral in 2015, so naturally, a host of brands took this opportunity to start selling them to cafes, restaurants, and individual consumers.
While eco-bags, reusable straws, and tumblers are all helpful in cutting down on waste production, they don’t really make the enormous impact that those selling them would like you to believe they do. And in the fight for a cleaner Earth – because it is a fight – there is always something more we can do to ensure that our lifestyles don’t contribute to the already rampant destruction of the environment.
What is permaculture?
Permaculture is all about evolving design. In contrast to the belief that you must eliminate nature in order to build cities and allow for progress, permaculture promotes design with and for nature. It was originally made for agriculture, but has also been adapted for urban, architectural, and even personal applications.
The ethics of permaculture are as follows: care for Earth, care for people, and fair share. “Fair share” means designing systems that offer “equitable access to resources while meeting the needs of everyone.” (PPA Permaculture 101 Booklet) The Filipino practice of Bayanihan is an example of fair share in action: people in a community till land together and each family has a turn of getting help taking care of the land that they own.
“Fair share” also means sourcing from local communities and makers, and from small-scale producers, like buying wood for structures and furniture from bamboo craftsmen, or reusing scraps that are left over from buildings ravaged by natural disasters. This is exactly what the Philippine Permaculture Association (PPA) did when they built their office in Marikina.
The PPA was established in 2000. They promote permaculture through innovation labs, trainings, and education about permaculture practices and philosophies. Their Marikina office building was designed and built with permaculture ethics in mind, from the solar panels on the roof all the way down to the “swimming pool” drainage beneath the floor.
How does it work?
The PPA had the great opportunity to put up an eco-friendly building from the bottom up, with permaculture principles integrated every step of the way. Even the scrap wood and tiles from the previous structure were used in creating the office, some of them being repurposed into mosaics.
The walls are made of cement mixed with mud. This makes them sturdy but still permeable, so it doesn’t get too hot in the summer. Cement posts stabilize the water tanks. Other parts of the foundation are made of bamboo held together with bamboo pegs. The pegs are treated so that they last as long as metal nails would, and they’re just as strong.
Since there’s no electronic cooling system, they used screens instead of glass on all of the windows, and furnished each one with a shade (more like a door) to pull closed when it rains.
The floors are made of different material in each room, but most are either coco lumber or earth tiles, both of which were chosen for how they affect the temperature of the space.
Lastly, the paint used on the walls is a mixture of lime and linseed oil. Linseed oil repels water, protecting the walls from mold and damage.
A rainwater collection system was installed to take advantage of the heavy showers during wet season. A gutter goes around the roof to collect the rain, which is stored and used for bathing, cleaning, and even drinking provided that it’s boiled first. The collections tanks can hold up to 31 cubic meters of water and are sealed to minimize pollution.
One of the parts we were most intrigued about was the compost toilet. It’s a “waterless” toilet with a division in the drain to separate the liquid from the solid. The bowl is elevated (appropriately, like a throne) to make drainage smoother for composting. Still, some waste might get left behind, so ash is used to “flush” the toilet and prevent it from smelling.
Although there are a few electronic appliances in the kitchen, the stove uses only fire. There are three chambers for cooking, so instead of turning a knob or flipping a switch, you adjust the heat by simply moving your pot or pan to a different chamber. Old scrap papers are used for tinder, and the ash that gets left behind gets send to the bathroom to be used in the compost toilet.
Even when it comes to the heat in the kitchen, nothing goes to waste. After one dish is cooked, you can use the excess heat to cook or warm up another dish. The heat is also transferred to the bathroom via metal pipes, so there is hot water to bathe in.
Storage in the kitchen is airy. The pantry is made up of open, easily accessible shelving, giving roaches and rodents fewer places to hide. Mugs and cooking utensils hang from bamboo pegs installed in the wall instead of getting sealed off in a cabinet.
This is a practical design choice not just for minimizing the presence of pests (though, as we learned, they too have a place in the balance), but also for convenient cooking and dining. You can quickly find what you need and take it without having to move things around or dig through a deep, disorganized drawer.
In lieu of harsh, abrasive cleaning liquids and soaps, PPA cleans the office with vinegar and baking soda. This solution works even for bamboo. They don’t produce much waste, but what they do throw out ends up in a composting pot. There are several sorted by how quickly the trash decomposes.
What can we do?
During the tour, a classmate asked permaculture designer Bert Peeters, “What can we do?” As working students, many of us live in condo buildings, apartments, or boarding houses, and we don’t have the means to simply build a home in tune with nature, as much as we might like to.
He said that they were fortunate to have the opportunity to do exactly that, but you can still live a lifestyle that respects permaculture principles while living in the urban jungle. It’s important to be more conscientious about just how much we consume and how much we dispose of on a day-to-day basis. A small step like bringing reusable containers to the market instead of buying meat and produce wrapped in plastic is a start. It’s a matter of examining your habits and thinking about what you can change – and more importantly, how.
There is a lot of science behind permaculture, but understanding all the technicalities is not prerequisite to incorporating it into your own home and life. In fact, many applications of permaculture rely on creativity. In the words of Bert, “If you do something, do it well. Do it beautifully.”
Amid hectic schedules and the inescapable pollutants of the city, take some time to ponder how you can make your living space and your lifestyle cleaner, more comfortable, and healthier for yourself. Then push outwards: how can you do the same for the living things around you?
The Philippine Permaculture Association is located at #17 Hereford St., Rancho Estates, Barangay Concepcion Dos, in Marikina City, Metro Manila. They can be contacted via mobile at either +6386507238 or +639178041590, or via email.