‘Minidumps’ of trash: EcoWaste laments return of pre-pandemic littering at pilgrimage sites

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
�Minidumps� of trash: EcoWaste laments return of pre-pandemic littering at pilgrimage sites
Devotees who flocked to the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto Shrine in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan left used plastic bottles, food waste and other garbage at the pilgrimage site, April 7, 2023.
EcoWaste Coalition

MANILA, Philippines — Similar to pre-pandemic commemorations of Holy Week, groups of devotees again left trails and minidumps of garbage at pilgrimage sites this week, according to an environmental watchdog.

EcoWaste Coalition said in a statement Saturday that it has observed the return of the “traditional” level of littering among throngs of pilgrims who flocked to churches and shrines this week after a three-year pause due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Based on its monitoring, the group observed that “some pilgrims chose to ignore the oft-repeated reminder not to leave any trace of garbage as they perform time-honored practices among Catholic Filipinos during the Holy Week.”

“While some opted to bring their discards home or dispose of them in available bins, many visitors, without remorse, threw or abandoned their trash along the streets and in pilgrimage sites, which are places for prayer and reflection, for cleaners or sweepers to pick up,” the coalition said.

Photos shared by EcoWaste with the media show piles of garbage around the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan.

The group said it saw bins "overflowing" with mostly single-use plastics and food waste. 

Those who visited the shrine also tossed trash on the ground, creating “minidumps” along the 14 Stations of the Cross, the group added.

Participants of the Alay Lakad or Penitential Walk 2023 procession to the shrine of the Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo City, meanwhile, left improvised sleeping materials and other waste on the ground after an overnight stay outside the Antipolo Cathedral, the group observed.

The annual Alay Lakad to the Antipolo Cathedral typically draws devotees from different parts of Metro Manila and nearby provinces, with the number of participants reaching around 4.2 million in 2019.

The group also observed some level of littering at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Marilao, Bulacan and streets adjacent to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.

Catholic mandate to shun harmful disposables, single-use plastics

Most trash left by devotees at pilgrimage sites were single-use plastics, including plastic utensils and wrappers, prompting the group to urge the Catholic faithful to do away with the use of disposables.

“It’s high time to move away from disposable culture. Ecological conversion and solidarity (are) urgently needed amid the triple planetary emergencies involving climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, which threaten human health and livelihoods and the ecosystems upon which we depend on,” the group said.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) through its president and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David earlier supported the group’s call for a litter-free pilgrimage, according to a Radio Veritas report.

While Filipinos typically resort to using single-use plastics due to its affordability, corporations have also benefited from these products by marketing them for their low cost without being held accountable for their contribution to pollution, a 2020 study commissioned by environmental organization Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) showed.

The CBCP wrote a strongly-worded letter in 2019 that called on Catholics to "eliminate" single-use plastics from their homes and institutions as part of their responsibility to protect and preserve the environment.

The nine-page pastoral statement, which directed dioceses to lead initiatives to address the ecological crisis, was patterned after Pope Francis' environmental edict "Laudato Si" in 2015.

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