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Jeffrey Hernaez
Earth-Friendly Initiatives Start With Simple Steps

Paper blocks made of on one side printed papers: The students (from left to right) Andrea, Patrizia, Patrizia and Viktoria explain their project to Jeffrey Hernaez (center). | Photo (detail): © Katrin Hartmann

Garbage is a global problem. Our landfills all over the world are reaching saturation points and our oceans are now harbouring plastic waste that causes harmful effects to our marine life. Waste management is a concern not only for developed countries like Germany, but also in developing countries that are now struggling to find large-scale solutions to mitigate the problem of pollution.

By Jeffrey Hernaez

The good news is that everyone can do their share to save the planet. This issue is particularly of interest to the youth, with millennials thinking of creative ways to undo the damage that has already been done and preserve what is existing for the next generation.

One particular initiative that caught my interest is in a German school. The school puts sustainability at the core of its mission. The HNE Eberswalde prides itself in having the greenest campus in Brandenburg, highlighting that they “walk the talk” when it comes to the concepts that they teach in this University of Applied Sciences that is dedicated to sustainable economic activity.

Kerstin Kräusche, speaker for sustainability at HNE Eberswalde explains the school’s concept. “Sustainability is the overall topic in all of the subjects. The school and everybody who is studying here, think that sustainability is a very important part of our lifestyle and society in general, so we try to put sustainability in all of the subjects. They put it in research, how we can improve processes.”

On campus, everybody is aware of sustainability and are practicing their own initiatives on how to care for the environment. “The overall topic of sustainability, everybody is part of that, the teachers, the students, and everybody who works here, even the maintenance people, everyone,” gestures Kräusche.

successful Project ReBlock

HNEE has a mandatory lecture for all first semester Bachelor students called "With nature for humans - Introduction to sustainable development". They likewise hold a "Round Table on Sustainable Development" which meets once or twice per semester and where everybody in the university – including staff, teachers, and students are invited to discuss about sustainable development at the HNEE and to help developing the school further in terms of sustainability.

Here within the school walls, we find ways in which the mantra ‘reduce, reuse, and recycle’ are put into practice: They use solar panels to power the school and get additional electricity only from certified green sources, they only use recycled paper, and the canteen is run with less food wastage in mind.

One successful example is Project ReBlock Berlin. It is a project started by four girls who are on a mission to prevent paper wastage. It is estimated that 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees cut down each year to make paper, and most of the paper products are not recycled but end up in the landfills. Project ReBlock takes used paper and turns them into notebooks or paper blocks, so they can be reused instead of having to cut down more trees.

There are alternatives

In the Philippines, going green is also gaining ground. Groups that are primarily made up of millennials as well, are coming together to find ways on how to deal with the pollution problem, with special attention being given to single-use plastics that are clogging up Manila’s waterways or floating around the country’s scenic beaches.

Because of the awareness that is being sustained on Philippine social media by groups such as the World Wildlife Fund with its #AyokoNgPlastic (#NoToPlastic), more people are finding alternatives to disposable plastic items.

The shift has been moving towards becoming conscious consumers, using eco-bags, metal straws, and even bamboo toothbrushes to help eliminate plastic waste. As part of a homage to Filipino creativity, there are also businesses that specialize in repurposing items to make them useful again: Upcycle Manila, and Junk Not! are artistic endeavours that create one-of-a-kind home furnishings out of discarded items. There is also a campaign to create “eco-bricks” that can be used to build playgrounds or even classrooms out of plastic bottles that have been stuffed with cut-up plastic sachets.

Throughout the world, more awareness and more action is needed. Environmentalists warn of reaching a critical tipping point, and with initiatives big and small such as those in Germany and in Manila, there can still be hope to save the planet.