Green is Gorgeous 1: Why an environmental column?

[published at Asian Journal July 2011]

Most Filipino-Americans know me for my music, for creating a new genre combining Filipino melodies with American jazz called “jazzipino.” Indeed, performing my original music has taken me around the globe. During these tours, exploring new countries every year, I was frequently exposed to the perils faced by our Mother Earth – perils that are largely a result of human beings.

In 2008 I started becoming active in environmental campaigns. I’m currently a member of Food & Water Watch and Sierra Club (specifically, the Water Committee). In the past three years, whenever I’ve attended green festivals and other environmental campaigns I’ve noticed that very few Filipino-Americans participate in these events. Sometimes I’m the only Pinay.

My objective for this column is to bring salient environmental information to the Fil-Am community. I encourage my kababayans to participate in the most urgent issues facing us and our families. What kind of planet do we want to leave our children, our grandchildren? These are questions that can no longer be ignored.

As I inaugurate my column, today is also the first day of a newly enacted law that bans plastic bags at large stores outside Los Angeles county’s incorporated cities.

Passed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on November 16, 2010, 67 large supermarkets and pharmacies are not allowed to provide customers a plastic carryout bag. This prohibition does not apply to produce bags used to prevent contamination with other grocery items, such as those that hold fruits, vegetables or raw meat.

If the stores offer paper bags, they must sell them for 10-cents each.

One of the many benefits of this ordinance is to reduce the stacking of plastic bags in our landfills. Plastic bags, usually made of polyethylene, does not biodegrade, decompose, or break down organically. This means they will stay where they’re buried forever. If they’re exposed to direct sunlight, they’ll eventually crack and turn into microscopic granules, a process that takes between 500-1000 years. Landfills being giant holes in the ground don’t receive much sunlight. Our plastic bags will be “with us” for a very long time.

A 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times documented how plastic bags have damaged our seas and the life they contain. In fact, because plastic bags are not biodegradable, a garbage patch twice the size of Texas is turning clockwise in the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. You can see it on Google Earth: our trash, coming back to haunt us.

Thanks to the dedication of environmental groups working with County Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky, we’re starting to see positive changes in our environmental policies. Communities such as Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Altadena, La Cresecenta, Topanga Canyon, Marina Del Rey, Baldwin Hills, Athens, Willowbrook, Florence, Rancho Dominguez, Valencia, East Pasadena and East Los Angeles are affected by the new no-plastic-bags ordinance.

The environment doesn’t end at city boundaries. Whether or not you live there, every time someone disposes of a plastic bag you’re affected, too.