Every now and then, I look at what search terms — a word or a string of words — bring visitors to our market website and blog.
These search terms are typically about the banig, the traditional Philippine sleeping mat (see my article in “Our Story”, From Sleeping Mats to Placemats), our earth friendly gift bags, twig table runners, square placemats, or about romblon and other Philippine leaves.
Today, there was one that caught my attention, and at the same time, also bothered me. It was:
“facts why the bayong bag is a good alternative to plastic bags“
Bayong is the Philippine language (Tagalog) name for a market bag or shopping tote. When I was a kid, my aunts and those who took care of the household and shopping had bayongs. It was a basic, all around sturdy tote you took to the market, usually made of whatever natural material was abundant locally. In our region of the Philippines, it was usually made of romblon (pandanus) leaves.
So…this search term bothered me because I think that by now, we should all know that plastics are harmful to our environment — and a natural material bayong is always a good alternative to plastic bags.
Everywhere we go, we see plastic bags and other plastic trash — an eyesore on our landscape.
See below photo from Manila Bay in the Philippines, and what happens to waste — mostly plastic bags — when we are careless or do not have a system in place to control trash. Part of why we have all this trash is that over the past decades, we stopped using our bayongs!
So back to when I was a young, I remember going to the market with my Nanay Liva, and being amazed at how much she could put inside her rather tall bayong, and how strong she must have been to carry that thing around from market stall to market stall, loading up the bayong with fish, meat, and vegetables.
Once shopping done — and depending on the marketplace — we would then go to the bus, jeepney or put-put terminal where my Aunt, bayong planted by her feet, waited for a vehicle to take us to her home.
I have blogged about the dramatically different scene at the market when I returned to the Philippines, after living in the U.S. for almost 20 years. I hardly saw any bayongs, and instead, there were single use plastic bags everywhere. Who needs a bayong when at each market stall you visited, you were provided with plastic bags.
Of course, the same thing happened here in the U.S. and elsewhere. The difference here though, is that the U.S. is geographically very big. There are still plenty of landfill space, and trash collection systems are in place (and strict recycling programs for progressive towns and cities). Still, city after city continues to place bans on single use plastic bags.
And then there are bayongs made of PLASTIC, usually made from box strapping material, like the example below.
Almost looks like a natural woven bag, right?
There is misconception that plastic bayongs are somehow stronger and better than traditional bayongs.
This is not true, as over time the handles unravel and break off, just as they would with traditional bayongs, with normal use. The difference?
- Plastic bags and bayongs are around for a LONG TIME, compared to a traditional natural bayong which will quickly biodegrade.
- Plastic bayongs/bags create havoc to sewage systems, contributing to floods and then ending up in waterways.
- Once in our waters, ocean creatures mistake plastic bags for food — especially endangered sea turtles — and ingest the bags.
- The plastic bags disintegrate into tiny pieces and adds to the garbage patch of floating plastics and trash in our oceans affecting our fragile environment and ecosystem, and harming the creatures of our oceans — and our food supply. (click here to see my article on the trash vortex in the North Pacific, now the size of the state of Texas).
So knowing that plastic bags are harmful to our environment, you cannot go wrong with a traditional, natural material bayong over plastic bags.
For more information on plastics pollution and resources on plastic bag bans, visit
- Article 12 Minutes (the average use time of plastic bags) — at Lolako.com
- Article 10 ways to rise above plastics – with link to Surfrider.org
- Article Message from the Gyre – on how our plastics pollution affects birds living on the Midway coral islands, even though these islands are 2,000 miles from the nearest continent.
These days, we make bayongs somewhat fancier than the ones my Aunts had…with leaves dyed in beautiful colors, or with intricate patterns and unique woven techniques.
But it is still a very functional, practical bayong. Sturdy and stands up straight— and ready to carry whatever you need out the door to work, to meet friends, or for the grocery store or farmers market, to put together your family meals.
And if your bayong has done its job and begins to break, then you can throw it in your compost pile to complete its cycle back to earth, or at a landfill, it will biodegrade (unlike a plastic bag that sticks around for hundreds of years).
And then go buy another, so we can continue this exchange of helping the women who make these totes generate incomes and create a better life for their families, while keeping our weaving tradition alive. And then we all doing something to minimize plastic trash and towards a cleaner environment.
And if you are ever asked if a native bayong market tote bag is “a good alternative to plastic bags”…and to whoever came across our website after typing those search words, the answer is a resounding YES!