This Filipino Innovator Fights Plastic Pollution in a Cool Way
Julian Rodriguez is a host, director, and cinematographer. He worked with the teams that produced the TV shows Gameplan and Survivor. His list of achievements is long, but the one he’s most proud of is his fight against the world’s biggest problem: plastic pollution.
Julian Rodriquez, Co-founder of Plastic Tides PH
Julian Rodriguez is the co-founder of Plastic Tides PH, a non-profit organization that seeks to raise awareness on plastic pollution through paddleboarding, education camps, and adventure. Its most recent expedition took the team trawling on Pasig River, where they were able to collect 1,500 kilograms of plastic trash in day.
PROOF OF LIFE: A Live Fish Caught by Plastic Tides During Its Pasig River Expedition and Cleanup Proves that the Pasig River is Not Dead
The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission, together with Plastic Tides and other partners, has already diverted 27 million kilograms of solid waste from the Pasig River system since 2012.
Plastic Tides Leads Cleanup of Pasig River
Rodriguez opens up about his post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, how the outdoors helped him deal with it, why he founded the group, where it has taken them, and what triumphs they have gotten over the years.
ESQUIRE: Why did you name your group “Plastic Tides”?
RODRIGUEZ: We named the group “Plastic Tides” because what we really want people to do is not to ride the plastic tide. When you surf the oceans, there’s plastic everywhere. The advocacy is really about fighting plastic pollution so that it does not reach our oceans.
ESQ: What inspired you to start an anti-plastic pollution campaign?
R: One of the reasons why I wanted to do this whole thing was because of my mental health. I was kidnapped in 2009, and because of that, I developed trauma and mood swings, among other issues. I went through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I realized that going into the outdoors was one of the key factors that helped me kind of deal with the issue. I received military training, camp, and survival trainings. That helped me a lot.
In 2014, because I was experienced in filming and I have military training in survival, I was asked to take part in a project in Bermuda where we paddleboarded for eleven days around the island while I was filming. It was me and Gordon Middleton holding the cameras, and through those eleven days of filming and paddleboarding, I saw how much plastic trash was in the ocean. I thought, if this is happening in Bermuda, it could be much worse in the Philippines.
"Advocating against plastic pollution sounds easy when I say it like this, but in reality, there will be a lot of opposition, a lot of obstacles. Do it anyway. Do it because you can, you want to, and you know that it is right."
When I filmed the project, it hit me. I was like, ‘Shit, there’s so much pollution.’ That really was the trigger. I realized that if there was so much trash in this side of the world that is apparently more developed, what could be the situation in the Philippines? The Philippines has one of the world’s longest coastlines, and plastic in the country finds their way to bodies of open water quite easily because of poor solid waste management in the country.
ESQ: What is the most important aspect of fighting plastic pollution that Plastic Tides think we should focus on?
R: The most basic thing that people have to remember is a simple thought, “Plastic-Free Starts With Me.” Our actions matter. It really has to come from every individual. A person has to make that decision, like when there is no one picking up litter, you have to do it yourself. We have to have the initiative and attitude about it, like, if no one’s gonna do it, then I’ll do it. Advocating against plastic pollution sounds easy when I say it like this, but in reality, there will be a lot of opposition, a lot of obstacles. Do it anyway. Do it because you can, you want to, and you know that it is right.
ESQ: Tell us about your cool expeditions. Where have they taken you? What was the most thrilling or surprising experience about it?
R: We were the first team to circumnavigate Taal Lake on stand-up paddleboards. It was intense. From Tagaytay, you’ll see how beautiful and serene the lake seems, but up close, it’s wild. We went to Taal Volcano and camped there. We encountered many wild animals, including an 8-foot python in the lake. Thankfully (or sadly), it was dead.
The purpose of the expedition is scientific research. We surveyed the wildlife, and the kinds of pollution that are washing up in Taal Lake. We discovered that some of the trash in Taal Lake come from fish pens, and some of these trash are large plastic sacks. The plastic sacks were used as packaging for fish feeds.
Plastic Tides' Scientific Expedition and Circumnavigation of Taal Lake
One of the goals of these expeditions is to make science and adventure fun. The overall experience has to be memorable, with the feel of camp vibes. The overall goal is to educate and give them a personal experience of the plight of the environment, something you can only learn outside the classroom.
ESQ: What are your plans for World Oceans Day on Saturday (June 8, 2019)?
R: Good question! Plastic Tides is going to paddleboard the entire length of the Pasig River starting from Manila Bay and ending in Laguna de Bay. That's more than 24 kilometers, on paddleboard, for 8 hours or so.
ESQ: What if you encounter hyacinths (water lilies) on the river?
R: We planned for that! We have several boat escorts that will clear up the path for us in case of water lilies. Hopefully, there are none. The worst case is we'll cross the bank and walk around it.
ESQ: On a personal level, what things do you do to reduce your plastic consumption?
R: To be honest, it’s difficult, especially since we contribute to plastic production with every purchase we make, even if it doesn’t seem so. For me, I really reduce my consumption, which also saved me a lot of money. I also refuse single-use plastics and Styrofoam. When I’m hungry and tempted to buy food that is packaged using plastic, I just wait it out until I get home where there are snacks.
ESQ: What sort of impact do you hope that Plastic Tides will make on environment?
R: One thing I really like to see is Plastic Tides making an impact, making changes. That is really what gives me fulfillment. Our team created a Junior Paddling Program in the US in which they taught kids to be active in their communities against plastic pollution. Because of the Junior Paddling Program, a legislation in upstate New York banned microbeads in cosmetic products.
To me, it’s a clear evidence of when you make environmentalism personal to someone, all their decisions become environmentally inclined. And that was just the kids. So, imagine if we hit the CEOs of big companies.