In 2015, the beauty of the marine life in the Philippines island region of Negros struck development worker Princess Bala-an during her visit to the Danjugan Island nature reserve.
Around this time, Ellen MacArthur, a retired British sailor and advocate for circular economy, issued a warning that plastic waste would outweigh fish in the sea by 2050 if pollution was not addressed.
Inspired to take action, Bala-an joined the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation as community manager for a project aimed at reducing plastic waste and raising public awareness.
As part of the project, Bala-an worked with small businesses, such as neighbourhood grocery stores and cafes, to encourage the use of less plastic. And promote a zero-waste economy across Negros Occidental, a central island province vulnerable to flooding, landslides and typhoons.
She established a pilot programme called Wala Usik (“nothing wasted”) in the local language. This challenged the “sachet culture” responsible for choking the seas of the Philippines.
Bala-an and her team set up a pilot programme for “sari-sari” grocery stores to use reusable or refillable containers for household items. And to sell solid versions of liquid products.
She also advised restaurant and café owners to source local and compostable materials as alternatives to plastic packaging. Additionally, she taught residents of coastal towns to conduct their own waste audits through clean-ups, to better understand the problem and how it affects the ocean.
Today, as the strategic projects officer for the Negros Women for Tomorrow Foundation. Bala-an continues to expand this work, helping women achieve economic independence.