MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is ranked among the worst global ocean plastic contributors. Many local establishments are using single-use plastic, especially plastic straws, which are too difficult to shun off.

Despite the implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act in 2000, it was never taken seriously. Philippine residents are still dumping their garbage anywhere or in any way they want.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is now eyeing to ban single-use plastic in the country. After Duterte mentioned his intention of banning single-use plastics, environmental groups are now proposing alternative eco-friendly materials. While the president is still pondering on the best alternative, some environmentalists suggest that the government should go after big companies with the highest production of single-use plastic before instigating the ban.

Coca-Cola, Perfetti van Melle, Nestlé brands, Mondelez International, among others are the country’s top sources of plastic pollution, according to the 2018 global audit conducted by Break Free from Plastic. Roughly US$6 billion is dedicated to handling plastic waste every year.

Nevertheless, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi Co are now working on producing biodegradable packaging by the year 2025 and 2030, Rappler reported. Some establishments have also started using biodegradable packaging, including paper cups, bio straws, and eco-bags.

A plastic-free country, however, is a strenuous job. It entails strategic actions and hard work not only by the government but also by the Filipino people.


Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

A boy swims as he collects recyclable plastic bottles drifting with garbage along the coast of Manila Bay at the slum area in the Baseco Compound in Metro Manila, Philippines, October 16, 2017.

"Sadly, the country is known to have beautiful and timely laws and regulations - the implementation and sustainability of these laws though, is another story,” said Gianfranco Ubamos, an environmental advocate.

While the Philippines has yet to establish any effective measure to tackle plastic pollution, other countries have joined the plastic ban movement.

Taiwan, for instance, started its plastic-free campaign in January 2018 by first banning free plastic bags. Bakeries, pharmacies, and cafes are no longer allowed to give away plastic bags to their customers. Since July of last year, dine-in restaurants have been restricted from offering plastic straws to customers. Starting in 2020, they will also be banned from offering plastic bags, utensils, and disposable containers.

The goal is to completely ban plastic use throughout Taiwan by 2030, according to Ying-yuan Lee, the minister of the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA). “You can use metal products or edible straws — or maybe you just don’t need to use straws at all,” Lee said at a press conference. “There is no inconvenience."

More than 380 million tons of plastic are produced globally each year and an estimated 8 million tonnes end up in the ocean, according to a research conducted by Our World In Data at the University of Oxford.

In a study conducted by the University of Hull and Brunei University London, researchers examined mussels that were sold in supermarkets. They found that there were 70 particles of microplastic found in every 100 grams of mussels. Plastic waste ends up in our food chain, impacting our health, the ecosystem, and the wildlife’s natural habitat. Apparently, the ocean is feeding us back our rubbish.

At present, several cities in the Philippines are imposing a policy that requires households to segregate their rubbish. This includes the city of Manila in partnership with Unilever Philippines launching a plastic waste segregation program called “Kolek, Kilo, Kita para sa Walastik na Maynila” (Collect, Weigh, Earn for the incredible Manila).

The program requires households to set soft plastics aside and clean them before shredding. From this, they can earn US$0.20 worth of Unilever products per kilogram of plastic rubbish.

Through the efforts of Unilever Philippines and Manila mayor Isko Moreno, alongside Pasig River Rehabilitation Center, Republic Cement, and CEMEX, these plastic wastes are used as alternatives for making cement. This also helps reduce the dangers that the usual fuels bring to the ecosystem when used excessively in manufacturing cement.

Plastic segregation, in which plastics are separated and cleaned from other wastes before recycling, aims to lessen the harrowing plastic pollution in the Philippines — and it isn’t only happening in Metro Manila. In some provinces, the schools require their students to submit a few bottles of any variant filled with shredded plastic rubbish as part of their school projects. These bottles are then used in making furniture, fences, and ornament.

Strict implementation is needed to obliterate single-use plastic starting from the national level.

“Other countries have already banned the single-use plastics and hopefully through political will, our country can do that as well," said Jen Deomano Santos of Bantay Kalikasan (Nature Watch). "Once put into law, there should be strict implementation starting from the National government level down to the Municipal and Barangay level as well."

Santos pointed out that a lot of plant-based, biodegradable raw materials have been introduced to the market. "The national government should have strong support for these companies or even fund projects and new innovations and inventions like these. If people really can't avoid using disposables, there are available alternative products in the market today that are made of cornstarch, seaweed, wheat or bamboo," she said.

But Greenpeace has a different take on plastic ban. Abigail Lois Aguilar, a campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia - Philippines, said the feasibility of eradicating the single-use plastic in the country isn’t too easy at this time. The strong lobby from the plastic industries within the government, specifically the National Solid Waste Management Commission and both houses of Congress, have been halting the plastic ban.

Greenpeace has insisted that the solution doesn’t only rely on product substitution, but also systematic changes. This means drastic depletion of the single-use plastics production as well as innovation through alternative delivery systems.

Using bio-based or single-use products such as paper as an alternative to plastic may affect the country’s forestry and agriculture as well as food security, according to Greenpeace. It would mean cutting more trees and mass production of bio-based products like cassava, which will only pose a threat to our food production.

Despite the success of other countries to ban single-use plastic, the Philippines has a very strong influence from multinationals which tend to skirt local regulations.

“Greenpeace is part of the global Break Free from Plastic movement and one of the main pillars of our work is calling out and lobbying with corporations real, systemic, not false solutions, Aguilar said. “We welcome businesses who recognize the gravity of the problem and truly want to do something about it through transformative, systemic changes that address a throwaway business model.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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