Fishbolan: A Lesson with Fake Plastic Fish

  • Oct
  • 24

Fishbolan: A Lesson with Fake Plastic Fish

A fishball food cart roams around Negros Island and presents the hard to swallow truth about the state of our environment.  

Interview by Denise Gonsalves
Images courtesy of Charley Sta. Maria and Yols Hortillosa from PRRCFI and SWEEP

For the past years, many advocacy groups have taken it upon themselves to create noise on how we, as individuals, can help address the world’s growing plastic problem. In Negros Island, an unassuming fishball food cart takes on the daunting task of teaching coastal communities why plastic pollution is harmful, and how zero-waste living can slowly be attained.

“If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.” This is the resounding message of Fishbolan, the latest initiative from SWEEP, or Sea Waste Education to Eradicate Plastic, that features an ambitious mobile museum dressed as a simple fishball food cart. First deployed in Brgy. Bulata, Cauyan in Negros Occidental last September 21, 2018, Fishbolan will continue to tour coastal communities around Negros Island within the next two years and teach citizens about the threat of plastic pollution to food security, public health, and livelihood.

How can a fishball food cart help spark action against plastic pollution? Dave Albao, Executive Director of PRRCFI, and his hardworking team give us the lowdown behind this sweeping campaign.


SWEEP – (Sea Waste Education to Eradicate Plastic) is a USAID project made in partnership with the Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation Inc. (PRRCFI). Based in Negros, SWEEP aims to reduce the flow of plastic into the ocean by educating communities on proper solid waste management.


GRID: Can you give us a brief overview of the Mobile Museum? Where is the Fishbolan usually parked, and how do you envision its operation in the long run?

Fishbolan [is usually found] at public spaces—inside a basketball court, on school grounds, at the town plaza, in front of the barangay hall, and other similar places. Once deployed, the food cart will expand into five stations:

(1) The Plastic Food Exhibit, which aims to show the extent and effects of plastic waste to our environment, food and water supply, and health;

(2) The Segregation Exhibit, which aims to demonstrate the value of proper waste segregation through an interactive game;

(3) The “Wala Usik” Exhibit, (“Wala-Usik” is a Hiligaynon phrase for “not wasting anything.”) which showcases zero-waste alternative products such as reusable food containers and utensils made by the locals of Negros;

(4) The Up-cycling Exhibit, which aims to showcase up-cycling and junk art workshops, and;

(5) The Commitment Exhibit, where participants are asked to fill out Impact Postcards where they can write to political leaders and urge them to implement plastic waste solutions.

Passersby are first lured by the sight of food from Fishbolan, before they realize that plastics are mixed in the food. The crew [will then] invite the public to interact with the exhibit, encouraging [them] to interpret the data [presented] and engaging [them] in discussions on the concepts of solid waste management, zero waste living, and circular economy.

We want Fishbolan to be an evolving installation, which means that the cart will be constantly growing and learning from experiences and the participants’ evaluation. At the moment, the team is revising [based on] the feedback we got from the test drive with the Negros Museum and its first deployment in Cauayan. The fourth station is also currently a work-in-progress, [and in the future] up-cycling and junk art workshops may be conducted depending on available talent in the communities. An Instagrammable photo wall is also under construction with the logos of our partners and project hashtags, #MoreFishNotPlastic and #WalaUsik to build social media reach for Fishbolan.


Tell us more about the inception of Fishbolan. How did the team come up with the idea of using a fishball cart to inform and raise awareness about social waste management and plastic pollution to these coastal communities?

The fishball food cart concept is an output of a design thinking workshop held in Danjugan Island last June 28-30, 2018. [The workshop] involved scientists, teachers, communicators, community organizers, artists, and local government officials and personnel involved in solid waste management. The workshop was funded by USAID Municipal Waste Recycling Program, and was conducted in partnership with Save Philippine Seas and the Provincial Environment Management Office of Negros Occidental.

A lot of [thought] exercises were used to condition the participants to think outside the box, to collaborate with others, and to understand the needs of [our] target audience. In the end, five prototypes of the SWEEP Mobile Museum were presented and tested for feedback. Participants were optimistic that the future deployment of the SWEEP Mobile Museum will help LGUs engage communities better in managing municipal waste and reducing the flow of plastic to the ocean.

Two years ago, the situation of social waste management in the island of Negros was very poor, with more than half of the local government units found to be violating R.A 9003, or the “Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.” However, social waste management is a problem not just of the local government unit, but the whole community. As ordinary citizens, how can we be a part of the solution?

Proper social waste management has been an uphill climb [for us], having only Bayawan, Sipalay and San Carlos as the few local governments in Negros that have been successfully implementing their solid waste management plans and operating their sanitary landfills up to the Environmental Management Bureau’s standards. Though stricter law enforcements are important, implementation succeeds only with citizen cooperation. We all play a part in this issue. We need to [start] collaborating and stop pointing fingers on who’s to blame.

In terms of concrete actions, one thing we can try to fully practice is segregation at source, where our aim is to reduce the waste we turn over to the garbage collection system of our local government or the waste that ends up in the landfill. We need to [learn how to] segregate [and] hold on to items that can be reused, re-purposed, up-cycled, or forwarded directly to junk shops or recycling facilities. This is easier described than done, so we also have to start reducing waste [by] refusing unnecessary packaging, and finding alternatives for use in daily life.

Is zero-waste living attainable? How do you think we can slowly transition into this kind of lifestyle?

We need to start introspecting and looking at our own personal waste management practices. SWEEP often likes to throw around questions like, how much waste did I produce today? Or, do I know how to segregate? Or, when I throw things away, where exactly is “away”? These are the kinds of questions we need to ask ourselves as ordinary citizens. We also want to highlight the fact that as Filipinos, the “Wala-Usik” culture—which is a Hiligaynon phrase for “not wasting anything”—has been in our blood for years. Zero-waste practices have been around since the time of our lolos and lolas; They would bring their own bottles or jars to the market or sari-sari store to be refilled with cooking oil, salt, soy sauce, and other fast-moving consumer goods.

Filipinos also have the natural inclination to reuse and recycle. There are still among us who don’t like throwing things away (at least not right away, especially when the packaging material is pretty or sturdy, or both). We like to re-purpose old tires into planters and chairs and re-sell them. We store our mason jars and keep our old cooking oil in them or use them for pickles. Filipinos are very enterprising and as long as they feel that it will help them in the practical and financial level, we are positive they will be open to new ideas.

For people living in small coastal communities, buying items in packets or small amounts is often more accessible than buying things in bulk. How can SWEEP and PRRCFI help promote and make zero-waste living more accessible to these people?

In the next months, SWEEP will establish nine zero-waste sari-sari stores in partner communities where coastal cleanups were initially conducted, and where the Fishbolan mobile museum is deployed. We hope to revisit and revive the practices of previous generations, when plastic packaging was not common.

The “Wala Usik” zero-waste sari-sari stores, to be further developed with SWEEP, will allow us to study the purchasing behavior of communities, and extrapolate how much single-use plastic waste was prevented from being produced based on the volumes purchased. Once we consider the population and the number of sari-sari stores serving a certain community, we can compute how much single-use plastic we can reduce if we transition to zero-waste sari-sari stores, even if this transition is only at 30%.

In addition, SWEEP has other projects lined up that will further help promote proper waste management and zero-waste living. Among these other projects include a recycling map around Negros and public service announcements and video content on how to properly conduct waste audits for households, schools, business establishments, and local government units. We’ve also started doing social media features on individuals, organizations, schools, and businesses that have been practicing a zero-waste lifestyle.

Amidst the many problems in this planet that are all essentially correlated—climate change vis a vis plastic pollution, over-consumption etc.—plastic waste would be the easiest to relate to as its impacts are directly felt by a greater public. We are happy to see that it is finally, albeit slowly, being given due attention and action.

This interview was edited for clarity and concision.


On October 29, SWEEP will be holding The Final Straw, a post-Masskara Festival clean-up walk around Bacolod City. Sign up to become a volunteer here.

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