Bottle-net Life Jacket by Carlos Hilado Memorial State College
Purok Sigay, Catabla, Bangga Baybay, Zone 3 Talisay City Negros Occidental
Rey Ramos (Team Lead), Dominic Mercurio (Documentation and External Relations); Arlene Visitacion (Community Engagement Officer); Sally Cadiz (Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning Officer); Perseus Bravo (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management focal person), Nancy Garcia (Community Coordinator)
The bottle-net life jacket is made out of used fish nets and discarded plastic bottles turned into a do-it-yourself personal floatation device (PFD).
Every family in coastal and flood-prone areas has a bottle-net life jacket. Communities are working together towards proper solid waste management and towards disaster preparedness.
CONNECT WITH US!
- Hopes for the families, fisher folks and tourists to acquire this protection gear.
- Calls for partnership with the Department of Education, Department of Tourism, Philippine Coast Guard and Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (LDRRMO) as support in advocacy
- Hopes to explore the possibility of partnering with a private institution and be part of their corporate social responsibility to adopt community or group.
- Calls for partnership with other local government units and/or government agencies
Water overflows in this area if the wind is very strong and flooding from higher ground makes its way down. The water enters people’s homes, and you’ll see animals caught in the current.
Seeing people simply throw their plastic bottles after consuming all the contents: seeing them in the streets, esteros, waterways, and bodies of water—we saw them as possible tools for personal flotation devices.
The Bottle-Net Life Jacket is a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) personal floatation device that employs the use of reused and recycled materials. One of the main goals of the project is to equip all families, especially those in poorer communities along coastal areas, with a necessary survival tool at a fraction of the cost of commercially available life jackets. In working with families, teach them to assemble these life jackets, the project also aims to provide communities with an alternative source of livelihood as well as further understanding regarding waste management.
In Talisay City, Negros Occidental, a coastal barangay by the name of Zone 3, Bangga Baybay is home to 1,911 families. Children comprise approximately a fourth of this community, as well as a 35% population of adult women, 5% elderly, and 2% persons with disability (PWD). Zone 3 is also home to many fishermen who earn their keep fishing especially for sweet, fresh blue crab and other shellfish.
The sand by the waters closest to Zone 3 is black, and in some areas is a bit mucky, littered for kilometers with bits and pieces of visible waste. Locals say that the sand was once the purest of white, but the area became the catch basin for all manner of waste—plastic, recyclable, compostable, and even human waste. This, together with the lack of education, has taken a toll on the quality of sand as well as the area’s general predisposition to flooding.
Lea Pareño, a community member barely in her thirties, has two young children. Her recollection of major flooding in the barangay during the time of typhoon Yolanda is one of definite terror and trauma. “My baby was only a few months old, and I did everything I could to make sure the child was safe and secure. We had no idea how to react or what to do, and I was most afraid of the water rising higher and higher, beyond what we could manage and without anything to protect us from it. Everything around us was submerged in water, all our possessions and our neighbors’ possessions. We had pigs we were taking care of, and in the midst of the flood you could see pigs and dogs floating,” Pareño recounts. “Even if I didn’t know how to swim, it became more and more dangerous for us to stay in our home, I had to go into the flood with my kids and look for a safer place to stay.”
Pareño’s young family survived without casualties, which village councilor Nancy Garcia says was the case despite the high water. “There weren’t really many casualties, thankfully,” she says.
Garcia, a transplant to Talisay after marrying a local years prior, says, “Because areas of the city have become more developed, their drainage and sewage waste, together with the waste coming from the farmland areas, have all made its way here. It makes the current very strong whenever there’s any chance of flooding.” She adds, “Water overflows in this area if the wind is very strong and flooding from higher ground makes its way down. The water enters people’s homes, and you’ll see animals caught in the current.”
The coastal barangay of Zone 3 has watched its seaside surroundings grow from clean and glowing to a veritable dumpster, especially of non-biodegradable waste. Together with the ever-growing problem of severe weather and storm surges, this creates the perfect environment for extreme flooding. Although there is a rise in awareness of disaster response and families assembling go bags for times of calamity, there is still a huge lack of underscoring the importance of having personal floatation devices in every home. Those commercially available typically run upwards of 2,000 pesos or roughly $40, which for an average family whose breadwinner makes 500 pesos a day for living expenses, makes them a pricey purchase solely for emergencies.
Team leader Engineer Rey Ramos, a civil engineer, says “It is better to be prepared than to be sorry.” The ideal solution would be for every home to be equipped with their own life jackets, especially in coastal areas, but the cost of a traditional floatation device is naturally a deterrent and makes the need seem less pressing. This meant finding an alternate, cost-efficient solution, and Ramos says that what was especially curious about conceptualizing this device was that such a big part of the problem could be so integral to coming up with the solution. “Seeing people simply throw their plastic bottles after consuming all the contents: seeing them in the streets, esteros, waterways, and bodies of water—we saw them as possible tools for personal flotation devices,” explains Ramos.
The Bottle-Net Life Jacket is a DIY personal floatation device made from recycled fishing net sewn into the shape of a traditional vest, lined with several pockets all throughout the body. Pockets in the upper part of the jacket can hold one or two 500ml bottles of drinking water, prolonging the possibility of survival by days. Into the rest of the pockets go recycled 500ml plastic bottles, which by themselves are enough to keep the jacket buoyant, but are lined with Styrofoam and plastic waste (similar to an eco brick but with less density) prior to insertion to absorb any impact from collision or debris.
Some other key features of the jacket include a flap at the base of the neck for a much larger bottle. Ramos explains, “Most life jackets leave you upright or constantly swimming, but sometimes it takes time for rescue to arrive. The bottle by the neck allows the wearer to lean back in a comfortable floating position, which then allows them to conserve energy while waiting.” The rest of the jacket is equipped with survival tools such as a waterproof pocket for a cellphone, a whistle, and a flashlight. This has been proven during the series of testing.
The materials used in the device allow the floatation device to be assembled at an average cost of 400 pesos ($8) per jacket, if not less; a whopping one-fifth of the cost of a commercial jacket. “They don’t have to go far to find these materials; it’s already around them in their everyday lives. It’s not only inexpensive, but it’s helpful to the environment,” says Ramos. But cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean less efficient. In fact, unlike the foam used in traditional life jackets, the materials used in the Bottle Net Life Jacket don’t absorb water and also allow for water to pass through, creating less resistance and further buoyancy. (Notably, during tests with local fishermen, one commented that even if he tried, he was physically unable to submerge himself when wearing the jacket because of the incredible buoyancy.)
“With a regular life jacket, you have about 24 to 48 hours before it becomes less effective,” explains Ramos. “With the innovation we’ve made, we’re able to extend even more days, giving every wearer a much greater chance of survival.”
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT AND IMPACT
Some pivots were made at the request of the community, partners from government (P/CDRRMO, coast guard) and private agency like Philippine Life saving Society such as:
- positioning of the openings in each bottle pocket for ease of assembly and use wider nylon legs straps to increase its holding capacity (feedback from community member who also did the sewing of some of the bottle-net life jackets)
- Included a head floater, for instances when the wearer is knocked unconscious, their head will remain above water (feedback from a fisherman who tested the life-jacket)
- Included flashing light sticks placed inside one of the water bottles, to make the wearer more visible during night evacuations and rescues; To included reflectors; To use neon-colored nets/orange nets (feedback from the Philippine Coast Guard)
- Inserted styrofoam cups or shredded plastics into bottles to absorb pressure when there is sudden impact (feedback from the Philippine Coast Guard)
- Changed the straps and nets to neon colors for greater visibility (feedback from the Philippine Coast Guard and CDRRMO)
- Cable tie to hold bottles must not cut as it make sharp and can cut. Instead, this can be just rolled to ensure that bottles will not release (feedback from Romeo, fisherfolk)
- The lock should be limited to 3 inside and only 2 outside and the leg strap should not be too long to easily done (feedback from community and sewer)
But the greatest involvement of the community in terms of product development was actual testing. The life jackets were used at sea and at the rapids, first by fisher folk and other swimmers in the community. But they needed to test the highest possible efficacy of the product, and that’s where community member Pareño came in. “They said it’s important for someone who doesn’t know how to swim to test the jacket, so we can see if it really works,” she said. She had never gone that deep into the sea before, and had always been mostly confined to the shore. “I don’t know how to swim, so when I first tried it, I didn’t want to go into the water. I was afraid that I would drown. But once I was in, I realized that the Bottle-Net Life Jacket really works. This is a huge help for someone like me, who has two small children. I don’t have to be so afraid in times of flooding or calamity because I have something to keep us safe.” The volunteers are secured with insurance package, provided with safe gears and backed up with supports from government and private agencies during testing for their safety.
When came time for production, because most of the breadwinners within the community were men who were out fishing, it was the women who stepped up. “I volunteered first, being a counselor within the barangay, to learn how to sew and put the jacket together. I wanted to lead by example, and it didn’t take much to get many of the other mothers in the community to learn and volunteer their time in making the jackets. They were very willing,” says Garcia. As of November, their target is to make 300 replicas of the final prototype. On one hand, these jackets can be shared within the community, for each family to take charge and make their own jackets and have floatation devices in their homes. On the other hand, the acquired skill and access to materials means that the jackets can also be made for profit.
Of this, Ramos says, “The women formed a cooperative. Their skills and a small amount to fund their efforts makes it more sustainable because what they make or assemble can be sold or engage partnership through the school or agencies, other groups and LGUs. Even the coast guard pledged to advocate or commission the use of this jackets.” This ultimately creates an entirely new means of livelihood for in the community. While the additional income is admirable, what is especially notable is that this is an avenue that empowers women with more opportunities for learning, entrepreneurship, and actively supporting their families for preparedness and resilience.
Ramos says part of the plan to further sustain the innovation is to appeal to the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm of bottled water manufacturers, as well as restaurant chains employing a heavy use of single-use plastics. They’ve tapped several entities such as the local government units, the Provincial Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Office, the Department of Education, the Department of Science and Technology, the Department of Interior of Local Government, the Philippine Coast Guard, and the Public Land Survey System to further assist in development and production, with the maximum intention of all proceeds returning to the community implementing the innovation.
The CHMSC will ensure that the life jacket to be made by women’s group will undergo quality testing prior to release to users.