Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bayong and the city

THE SKIES opened on the day I brought books for my students to take home for sembreak reading. Since the route to school involves two jeepney rides, the early morning downpour tested my ability to lug a purse, an umbrella and two big bags of books.

Fortunately, I’m a buyot creature. The buyot is the Cebuano version of the bayong, a native bag used by women in the past to transport anything to and fro the farm and market. Men punch holes in the bayong to convert this into a traveling compartment for game cocks.

Today, the buyot has been repositioned as a “green bag”. Aside from using leaves, vines and other natural, biodegradable components, the tote can be reused. Contemporary versions are made from recycled juice packs, tarpaulin, streamers and other discarded materials.

My favorite totes are made of cloth. When a used merchandise seller took over the formerly chic Gaw department store that met its demise in the Colon of the 1990s, I bought my first canvas totes there for P10-P25. Before Cebu City Hall started collecting taxes from the Carbon used goods sellers, these totes were dumped anywhere, freely associating with Lifesaver-colored, tortured-looking pantylets and bras and once, snugly curled inside a teapot.

Though a lifetime of carrying books makes my totes look like dried strips of meat, their sturdiness and dependability count high if their looks don’t. A reused grocery bag can very well haul one’s stuff, but the clear plastic renders one too transparent to fellow travelers. (I’ve had to disappoint jeepney neighbors, who, after straightening up necks made stiff from reading the spine titles of books I’m carrying, ask hopefully if I’m in the book-lending business.)

The modern buyot also has another edge: zippers. Much as I admire jeepney drivers for nurturing readers among their passengers by way of a Sun.Star Superbalita inserted above their rearview mirror, I dislike remembering to get back my copy of the daily that’s been borrowed by a fellow passenger only after I disembark. For reasons yet to be pinned down by a market analyst or hypnosis expert, a Superbalita copy glimpsed inside a jeepney, whether tucked near the dashboard or peeking out from an open, unzippered tote, is fair game for passengers who have to be up-to-date with “Laysho” or “From Junquera with love”.

Last Oct. 11, 2010, the buyot showed signs that it may yet become not just a many-splendored thing for commuters but also a “national bag”. Local groups observing Global Work Party Day singled out the native bag as one of the viable solutions to combat climate change.

A week ago, the Cebu Chapter of the Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) launched their own “unified” version of a green bag made of recycled plastic bottles. PRA-Cebu Chapter members said they will give incentives to customers who reuse their green bags when they shop or patronize shops.

In 2009, the Department of Trade and Industry launched a campaign to promote the bayong among consumers and entrepreneurs. The agency noted the livelihood opportunities in supplying the global market with alternatives to replace plastic bags. Artists and even students in Home Economics classes are encouraged to reinvent the “national bag”.

Last September, Pampanga Representative Aurelio Gonzales Jr. introduced Resolution 783 in the House of Representatives. House Resolution 783 provides for the phase-out of plastic bags as packing materials of goods sold from sari-sari stores to bigger establishments.

Plastic bags comprise half of the garbage, equivalent to about 300,000 kilos, recovered during coastal cleanup operations in 2009, according to the Department of Environment and National Resources. Plastic represents 15 percent of Metro Manila’s solid waste.

According to a report, switching from plastic to bayong may keep down the country’s 390 parts per million (ppm) current level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to the safe upper limit of 350 ppm.

Whether it’s to prevent one’s books or newspaper from being read to bits during a traffic lull or to safeguard our planet, the buyot is The Bag to be seen toting around. 0917-3226131

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 17, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” column

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