Last September 10, residents of California cities, particularly San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley beheld an eerie sight of orange skies. Such was the result of wildfires raging in the US West Coast, their smoke and ash blotting out sunlight and creating the rust-colored haze. 

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the wildfires began as early as January, and have already burned down more than 3 million acres in the state. Since the increased fire activity last August 15, there have been 24 deaths and over 4,000 damaged structures. But outside these figures, the wildfires have wreaked havoc in the atmosphere, putting areas under Air Quality Indexes of “very unhealthy” and even “hazardous”, forcing residents to stay indoors. 


Orange-tinged skies in the Bay Area in San Francisco last Sept. 10 at 10:30 a.m. (photo by Irma Cruz-Dimaisip)


The Pollution Problem

Even without the wildfires, ambient air pollution is a global problem, causing over 4 million deaths each year. According to the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, pollutants are linked to severe respiratory and heart diseases, and lowers  resistance against airborne viruses, making one vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these human activities are the major sources of outdoor pollution:



Combustion engines, fossil fuels and industrial activities produce Particulate Matter (PM), which contains sulphate, nitrates, ammonia, sodium chloride, black carbon, mineral dust and water. Most dangerous is PM2.5, which has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers.  Because of its tiny size, PM2.5 is easily inhaled, allowing it to penetrate the lungs and blood stream, causing illnesses, which may lead to premature death.

WHO data further states that more than 80% of people living in urban areas that monitor air pollution are exposed to air quality levels that exceed WHO guideline limits. The most affected countries with the greatest toll are in the Western Pacific— and Southeast Asia, which includes the Philippines.

Aerial view of the Pasig River (photo by Enrico Empainado/Greenpeace)


Metro Manila’s Alarming Air Quality

Greenpeace Philippines reported a dramatic improvement in air quality during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Metro Manila from March 15 to May 15, 2020. With this measure to curtail the spread of COVID-19, most of the National Capital Region’s 2.5 million vehicles were kept off the road, resulting in PM2.5 levels dropping by an astounding 180%.

But this improvement was short-lived.  Since the region shifted to general community quarantine (GCQ) last June 1, smog and pollution levels continue to climb, slowly reverting to the poor air quality experienced before ECQ.  

Prior to the lockdown last February, groups such as Greenpeace, Clean Air Asia and the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development (CEED), Health Care without Harm, the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines had called on the government to overhaul its monitoring and analysis of air pollution data to provide more accurate information. This was in response to the recent 2019 Air Visual report, which placed the Philippines in the 58th spot out of 98 countries.  The groups argued that though the country’s ranking wasn’t high, data still showed that the country’s air quality was getting worse. In 2018, the country’s air pollution level of 17.6 micrograms per cubic meter was well beyond WHO’s safety limit of 10 micrograms per cubic meter.

Bikers during ECQ (photo by Jire Carreon)


A Greenpeace Philippines report released in February, showed that toxic emissions could cost Filipinos as much as a 1.9% loss in Gross Domestic Product, as well as 27,000 premature deaths. For a clearer picture of the country’s air pollution, the groups urge the government to place monitoring stations near coal-driven power plants and areas of high traffic. 

“The Philippine government should see the data as an impetus to overhaul air quality monitoring systems in the country, as well as to transition away from highly polluting facilities such as coal plants. Our safety standards for air pollution haven’t changed since 1999,” said Khevin Yu, campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines. “This situation has allowed industries and facilities to pollute the air we breathe with impunity.”

Meanwhile, Greenpeace campaigner Rhea Jane Pescador-Mallari believes that the ECQ showed Filipinos that healthy, clean air is possible in the metro. “Moving forward, if the government is willing to use the opportunities and lessons learned from the pandemic and amplify it through policies and infrastructure, active mobility and micro mobility, as well as invest in efficient and safe mass public transport, then a return to the massive pollution levels before COVID-19 can be avoided.”


Clean Air for All

The severity of recent global wildfires are fueled by climate change, which brings about soaring temperatures, drier conditions and pest outbreaks that weaken trees.  According to WHO, air pollutants like black carbon and methane contribute to global warming and glacial melt. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition also states that air pollution threatens food and water supply by blocking sunlight, and affecting the movement and intensity of monsoons.

To secure the Filipinos’ health, Greenpeace Philippines advocates for the stricter implementation of the Clean Air Act, and the following measures:



Greenpeace believes that the efforts to solve air pollution are the same ones needed to mitigate the climate crisis. “As epicenters of growth, cities need to provide an environment that puts in high premium the health and wellness of both people and the planet. At the local level, addressing air pollution is a key aspect of making cities livable and sustainable. At the national level, it means addressing the climate crisis while helping build climate-resilient communities,” said Mallari. 


Seven million.

That’s how many people die every year due to air pollution. What’s more, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the most vulnerable to this environmental problem are the children. In fact, it is one of the leading risks to the health of young people, with around 600,000 children dying each year due to air pollution and diseases related to it. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also said that there are 300 million children who are exposed to areas with high toxic levels.

Indeed, harmful air seriously threatens many people and is definitely not something to ignore.

To address this, improving air quality should be one of the top priorities. And since cleanliness begins at home, why not try growing indoor plants? There are numerous advantages of house plants. As they help remove toxins from the environment, these plants can promote good health for your family.

In addition, greener environment can also make us feel more comfortable with our surroundings. Certain researches show that interior landscaping has positive effects on the well-being of the occupants. People tend to be more productive, healthier and happier because plants provide relaxation. Humans greatly benefit from being more inclined with nature.

Architect Abby Abiol, a landscape architect and general manager of Haute Flora, shares her knowledge about indoor plants and how to take care of them. Her work includes planning and designing outdoor spaces to suit human activities with top consideration to a balanced design that will be sensitive to both natural and social environment.

“I chose to pursue and practice my profession because my abilities, responsibilities and knowledge in this service helps mankind in developing and evolving into better society and living environment,” Architect Abby shares.

According to her, here are the 7 best house plants that are commonly found in plant nurseries in the Philippines:

Chamaedorea seifritzii (Seifritzii or Bamboo Palm)
Bamboo plant is one of the best plants that would suit your home or office because it is low-maintenance and could survive even with little sunlight. Also known as the “Reed Palm”, it is a relatively small graceful palm that could grow up to about 7 feet.

Each stem is long and slender with “nodes” that are similar to bamboo. Usually, plants are commercially clumped together to form shrub-like specimens. But this palm naturally spreads by suckers or offshoots. The tall stems measure about 10-15 fronds each with about 12 dark green pinnate leaflets.

Photo Courtesy: greenstuffplants.com
Photo Courtesy: greenstuffplants.com

Rhapis excelsa (Rhapis)
Rhapis is a clustering and slender palm growing up to 3 to 4 meters tall. The stem is like a cane with a diameter of 4 centimeters with matted coarse fiber. Its leaves are divided into linear segments, which appear like a dissected fan.

Beacuse of its air-filtering property, it is included in the list of the clean air study of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and became one of the 10 Best Air Filtering House Plants in 2015. Rhapis excelsa proved that it is capable of indoor air purification that helps eliminate formaldehyde ammonia, xylene and toluene – all of which are harmful air toxins.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.sundaygardener.net/
Photo Courtesy: http://www.sundaygardener.net/

Spatiphyllum commutatum (Peace Lily)
An evergreen perennial native to Indonesia and the Philippines, Peace Lily spreads by underground rhizomes, forming dense clumps of shiny dark elliptical leaves supported by long-sheathed petioles or leaf stems. The large-flowered Peace Lily can bear some of the largest and long-lasting blooms of its tribe.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.happystartsathome.com/
Photo Courtesy: http://www.happystartsathome.com/

Dracaena surculosa (Japanese Bamboo)
Dracaena surculosa is a slow growing evergreen plant with thin erect stems that could grow as high as 23 inches with a spread of 15 inches. It is a native of western tropical Africa rainforest region.

The leaves of this plant are dark green with cream spots. New leaves can appear as tightly rolled cones that showcase beautiful creamy yellow markings. Dracaena surculosa can be grown in a bottle garden

Photo Courtesy: www.indoor-plants.co.uk
Photo Courtesy: www.indoor-plants.co.uk

Zamioculcas zamifolia (Welcome Plant)
Also dubbed as the ZZ plant, it is one of the newest house plant that is becoming more popular. Considered to be stylish, attractive and easy to maintain, it also blends well with either a contemporary or traditional setting.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.jackwallington.com/
Photo Courtesy: http://www.jackwallington.com/

Sansevieria trifasciata (Snake Plant)
Also one of the easy-to-care house plants, Snake Plant is a native to the tropics of West Africa. It his known for its upright leaf habit which fits in to almost all locations in the home from both traditional to modern day settings.

Because it is clutter-free, it became a popular choice for architecture and interior design.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.glasshouseworks.com/
Photo Courtesy: http://www.glasshouseworks.com/

Chlorophytum comosum (Spider Plant)
Its name was derived from the appearance of its plantlets, dangling from the mother plant just like spiders from a web. These plants are pleasantly known for their simple care requirements and the ability to tolerate relatively low light conditions.

Spider plants are known for their ability to grow in lower light conditions and prefer indirect light. In fact, too much direct sunlight may damage the leaves. They likewise don’t require humidity that much, average room humidity is usually sufficient.

Photo Courtesy: www.myhouseplants.com
Photo Courtesy: www.myhouseplants.com

According to Architect Abby, all of these plants are very tough. They adapt well in areas with minimal sunlight or water. These plants are very easy to maintain and can really help people understand and enjoy their plant with very little effort.

Care Tips from the Expert
• A good balance of water and occasional sunlight will suffice. First, know the characteristics of your chosen plant. It’s best to ask the nursery people you bought your plant from, on how to properly care for that plant.

• Never water too much as this may be the cause of root rot and eventually your plant may get sick. Feel the soil and even poke the soil to see if this is still moist under the surface. If there is dryness, gradually water the plant but be careful not to put more than the pot and soil can handle. Always water at the base.

• Make sure that you occasionally wipe the leaves so that dust will not settle on the surface allowing light to penetrate the leaves.

• If sunning your plant is possible, do not expose directly under the sun or in the full outdoors as this may scorch the plant that has already adjusted to the low light situation.

Haute Flora (owned by Ms. Abby Abiol)