Last year, a viral video showing plastic trash floating around the Secret Lagoon in El Nido, Palawan caused an uproar on social media.
Filled with rage, Filipinos pointed fingers at each other in the comments section of the now taken-down Facebook post. Many blamed tourists’ irresponsible practices, while others claimed it's because of the government’s poor waste management system.
The video surfaced as the world's waste problem was finally part of the national conversation. Just months before, the country’s most popular tourist magnet, Boracay island, was closed to tourists for rehabilitation due to its worsening sewage problem.
But unlike many who merely channel their anger online, there are those who have been moved enough by the plastic problem to take concrete steps to solve it. François Lesage,
"One year ago, I met this friend, and she told me about the plastic pollution issue. She went to the Philippines, went for a dive, and found the oceans very polluted. I was at a point in my life where I wanted to find more deep sense in my work," Lesage recalls. "It really hit me even in a spiritual, personal way. It is an emergency and we have to do something about it."
Fortunately, Lesage is someone who walks the talk, and a few months later he uprooted his family from France and moved to Manila. With just five bags and his life savings, Lesage and his wife, Charlotte, founded the Plastic Flamingo in August 2018.
The startup aims to upcycle plastic waste into functional planks that can be turned into furniture, or even emergency shelters. So far, at least five barangays from Cavite and Freedom Island in Parañaque have been turning over their usable plastic waste to the company for upcycling.
Lesage admits the company is still in the early stages and it is still in the process of prototyping its envisioned products, but his collaborative partnership with Filipino firm Envirotech Waste Recycling Inc. has made him hopeful.
"The company also recycles plastic waste and turns it into furniture. Last year, it went viral for its plastic school chairs. So basically, right now, we are their middle man. We help it get resources for the plastic waste it needs. But we’re also in the process of developing products," he says.
Moving to Manila became even more necessary for him when he found out the Philippines is the third largest source of plastic waste in the ocean, after China and Indonesia. According to a report by Ocean Conservancy charity and the McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment in 2015, the Philippines produces 2.7 million tons of waste a year. That amount of waste can be held by more than 133,000 standard dump trucks.
Lesage expects the company to be profitable by next summer, which he says feels a lifetime away because the business has not been running as smoothly as he'd hoped.
"Running a business in the Philippines, it's slow. My wife was very nice to support me, she's also my associate for this project. It's not easy every day. It's a big commitment, and it’s a big risk,” he says. "But we're hopeful that the plan works. And if it works here in the Philippines, we would love to replicate it in other Southeast Asian countries, like India, Indonesia, Thailand. There are so many opportunities and possibilities."
*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.