Old Manila eco-market: Building zero-waste communities

The Old Manila Eco Market is a zero-waste weekend market that showcases locally sourced products and promotes eco-friendly lifestyles 

By Salve Canale
Published: Tuesday 16 February 2021

If you know your way around Intramuros, Manila, you have probably come across a pop-up market near the Manila Cathedral on a weekend. That’s the Old Manila Eco Market (OMEM), a zero-waste weekend market that showcases locally sourced products such as fresh fruits and vegetables, food consumables, personal care products and handicrafts.

It was a dream for OMEM founders, Shine de Castro and Sheila Leyva, to have a weekend market in Manila. They wanted to bring locals back to enjoying their own tourist attractions while experiencing a weekend market without having to endure the heavy traffic and travel for hours. So they pitched the idea to the Intramuros administration, and since 2018, the pop-up store has been a part of the walled city.

Zero waste all the way

The OMEM is not only a business; it is an initiative to promote eco-friendly lifestyles. As enthusiasts of pop-up stores, Shine and Sheila were aware that these spaces would generate large amounts of waste, particularly disposables.

So, it was a mutual decision to embrace zero waste from the beginning. That meant strictly banning single-use plastics in all kinds of products, including ready-to-eat food, for their merchant partners. Therefore, if a merchant applying to be a part of the weekend market could not shift to reusable packaging, they were told to reapply when they were ready to make the shift.

“It was challenging at the start,” Shine said. “Manilans are new to the concept of zero waste and a local weekend market.” 

Shine added that most people were not even aware that shampoo bars and beeswax wraps existed. They were curious about how a refilling system worked: They were surprised that locally and naturally made products could be purchased at relatively low prices.

“We don’t have a lot of customers. But we just keep on and spread awareness about zero waste and local alternatives.”

Market day and more

For OMEM, every market day is made special by market goers who learn about zero waste through the products and services they offer. 

As Shine noted, being zero waste goes beyond substitution of packaging and creating awareness. That’s why they are determined to help their partners and consumers navigate the lifestyle, by not only by offering them eco-friendly products, but also facilitating training sessions that promote sustainable lifestyle.

Some of these training are on solid waste management, urban farming, bokashi composting, recycling / upcycling, do-it-yourself, sustainability summit and similar topics, offered at a minimal cost.

To give their partners more platforms to showcase their products, OMEM collaborates with other institutions and organises pop-up markets in malls and schools as well as in organisations’ event venues.

“We work with our beneficiaries to make them a zero waste community and empower them financially,” Shine said, adding that they often get invited by organisations to set up zero waste pop-up markets during events.

But there are challenges as well. When things become difficult, Shine and Sheila remind themselves of the reason they started Old Manila Eco Market: To bring zero waste in one community at a time. 

They could not organise green events when the lockdowns to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were imposed in Metro Manila beginning March 2020. They had to temporarily stop operating their pop-up events, which was the main source of their income. Shine and Sheila used the time for reflection. 

“We reflected on our business model, our plans for the coming years, and going back to basics,” Shine said. They now provide trainings on growing food within their own community.

“The produce people would grow will not only provide food on their tables but can also be a source of additional income,” Shine said.

She added: “We are not just a store, and we are not here just to sell products and services. We are building a community, not only of brands, but also of other movers and shakers working together to achieve a more sustainable lifestyle. We are also promoting the local tourism industry.”

This article is part of the book, BUSINESS UNUSUAL: Enterprises paving the way to Zero Waste, a collection of feature articles on select enterprises in Asia Pacific that practice and promote zero waste principles.

Published by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the publication may be downloaded for free at no-burn.org.

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