Wala Usik – Nothing is wasted
Plantable toothbrushes, reusable containers, apps that calculate your carbon footprint, compostable bioplastics made from rice hulls and other agricultural waste: these are just some of the ideas developed by local sustainable businesses and creative minds in the Philippines to put into practice the zero-waste and circular economy.
This pilot project supports start-ups, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with their innovative circular economy designs and plastic reduction initiatives. Drawing inspiration from the Filipino expression ‘Wala Usik’ – ‘nothing is wasted’, our partners find ways to reuse materials so that our natural ecosystem can thrive again.
“Though the Wala Usik concept is new to my husband and me, we are really interested in it – not just for us but for our children's future. We want them to be able to experience and enjoy a clean environment. I wanted to make people realise that our planet is dying, and as a small business, we can help meet this challenge.”
Tania Rheil Garcia, Food Stall Owner Eleven11
HOW EXACTLY DID WE DO IT?
1. Small enterprises learn ‘Wala Usik’
From small convenience stores, known as sari sari in the local language, to food carts, cafes, restaurants and market vendors, we worked with 11 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that aimed to reduce or prevent single-use plastic waste. The businesses were selected from among 113 applicants based on their innovative ideas for plastic-free products and systems. They received financial and business support to further develop and market their ideas, which included micro-refilleries for personal and household liquid products, deposit-return schemes for reusable containers, and compostable packaging made from sugarcane bagasse. Together, we introduced their ideas to their communities, and they became advocates for the circular economy and were featured in international, local and social media. By the end of the project, we had developed and assisted with 12 sustainable products and packaging concepts, preventing 214 kg of plastic waste from entering the ocean.
“As a business owner, I see the large quantities of plastic waste that we dispose of every single day. A single business can produce 10 kg of trash in a day – multiply that by 30 days and that's 300kg of waste a month. Wala Usik Economy is a good project because it means, in my own little way, I can contribute to saving our environment”.
Laverne Traifalgar, Restaurant Owner, Thirdwave Restaurant
2. Selecting ideas and innovations through hackathons
We initiated a four-day hackathon to engage with 18 teams of students, businesses and start-ups who developed with us their ideas about promoting a circular economy and reducing waste. From producing cellulose-based bioplastics and upcycled reusable packaging to a platform for buying, renting, and swapping upcycled and refashioned clothes – all of the initiatives followed the ‘Wala Usik’ model. Five teams were selected based on their ideas and received financial support. They also received three months of business incubation from the project team and experts, for example from the Technological University of the Philippines. The incubation period involved identifying gaps and limitations in prototypes and improving designs and business structures. A Demo Day was held to showcase their products and services. Now the enterprises have circular business plans, better knowledge of the circular economy and stronger communications structures. They have also been connected with other incubators, accelerators and social business enablers for further support and funding.
A second regional hackathon, the Wala Usik Challenge 2022, targeted players who were not yet involved in the circular economy and idea generation but would make game-changing contributions once they were enabled. These included creatives, students and practitioners working in industrial design, fashion design, packaging engineering, materials science, chemical engineering, graphic arts and advertising. 15 Finalists were selected to complete the game and submit their packaging concept. The second hackathon was designed in an interesting, innovative and inclusive gamification way and there is a lot of interest in replication.
3. Initiatives with huge impact
The participating businesses invested in their social marketing and received a lot of attention in their communities, at national and international level. They acted as advocates and promoted the concept of a local, sustainable and circular economy. Even initiatives that weren’t selected for the project were included in the Wala Usik Economy network, which was set up during the hackathons. The network has now become a community of entrepreneurs looking for a support system to share experiences, address challenges and find partners. One initiative of the network involves using banana leaves as traditional packaging in a community-based industry; working together, the partners standardise the material, pre-fabricate designs and ensure safety standards.
We have shown how to avoid wasting resources, income and value – and an overwhelming number of organisations, local government units, schools, communities, financing institutions and development agencies have followed our path. Some have already looked at replicating Wala Usik in different parts of the country. Actors at many levels are interested in promoting alternative materials and systems, especially in light of pending national legislation to eliminate single-use plastic items from businesses. Many local government units have realigned their agenda and deliverables for sustainability initiatives with new approaches and project ideas for promoting the circular economy. Learnings have influenced programmes and interventions at provincial and national level. High-level leaders in government agencies are asking for information and advice on how to scale and replicate Wala Usik business models.
4. Guidance for all
Learning from these concepts, we have developed various information materials to share our knowledge and experiences with others. A toolkit captures the learnings and provides guidance for implementing zero-waste and circular business ideas. In developing the toolkit, we consulted 59 stakeholders, such as governmental departments, local universities and non-governmental organisations in the region. The toolkit may be applied in different contexts, but users should keep local conditions in mind and consult community members. In addition, the findings, innovations and ideas from the second hackathon were summarised in a "magalog", a magazine catalogue of circular packaging design ideas. For development partners and others interested in the results of the pilot project, we have produced a guide entitled Innovating Business for the Environment: A Technical Paper for Wala Usik Economy Business Development Support.
HOW CAN WE BUILD UPON WHAT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED?
- It is vital to foster greater acceptability of zero waste and circular economy concepts in communities. This takes time, strong leadership and communication in local languages in order to include everyone. Our project is a good example: the phrase Wala Usik translates circular principles into the local language and context. It represents the local values of the circular economy and taps into cultural heritage, making the campaign less foreign.
- Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises develop at different paces, based on various levels of education, training and capacity. Existing businesses need capital, time and energy to transform into a zero-waste business. Transition costs can be steep if there is no support from other entities. Additionally, many businesses have been affected by the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis and need extra support. These businesses need stimulus packages, subsidies, training and other enabling measures to become active participants in a circular economy.
- Local government units can also support the businesses, for example by supplying business permits for seminars on waste management programme compliance and providing incentives, tax holidays and subsidies for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises that transition to circular business models.
- Future activities for MSME need to align with ongoing policy processes and regulations, such as the National Plan of Action on Marine Litter (Strategy 2), the proposed Single-Use Plastic Products Regulations Act, Extended Producer Responsibility and eco-labelling standards.
- Gamifying hackathons can be engaging, innovative and inclusive. This can draw in stakeholders who are not yet involved in the idea of a circular economy but would make vital contributions once enabled.
- A learning from working on alternative materials is that compostable and biodegradable packaging is often mentioned without being properly defined, and the technology needed to ensure proper handling is often lacking. Standards and regulations for desired compostable packaging materials are required.
Watch project videos and events online:
- Timblada, sustainable food delivery: Facebook Live | Facebook
- Timplada, A Year of Mindful Business
- Wala Usik Challenge 2021: https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?ref=watch_permalink&v=164842932380429
Wala Usik Challenge 2021: A Circular Economy Hackathon: Facebook Live | Facebook
- Wala Usik Challenge 2021 ♻️ a circular economy hackathon: Watch | Facebook
- Wala Usik Challenge 2022 - Teaser: Watch | Facebook
- Wala Usik Challenge 2022 - Teaser 2: Watch | Facebook
- Wala Usik Challenge 2022 - Hack the Packaging: Facebook Live | Facebook
- Wala Usik Challenge 2022 Awards Night Facebook Live | Facebook
Implemented by: Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation, Inc. (PRRCFI)