Help! We are drowning in plastic!

Published April 21, 2018, 4:05 PM

by manilabulletin_admin

By AA Patawaran

Illustration by Oteph Antipolo


So it’s summer and I bet the AC is the most important thing in your life right now. Did you know, though, that I no longer have an airconditioner in my bedroom? I moved to a new house in 2012 and I designed my room so that I could count on the air flow to help me survive this tropical climate. It wasn’t like I had to study aerodynamics or anything of the sort. Maybe I just used my common sense, along with that of the construction crew, but hey it works—Except in the summer months, I can sleep in comfort even without a fan.

I also think, based on my experience, that I get sick less often since I got rid of the AC. Look, Ma, no more allergic rhinitis! Maybe, my body is more primed to adjust to the climate, though, of course, there is no way I can avoid the AC in many other places like my office, the malls, the moviehouses, and the restaurants. In the car, I try not to turn on the AC at night. Pollution, I know. Danger, I know. But, well, at the rate we are polluting the environment, I might as well make sure I’ll have the pleasure to say that once upon a time I could breathe in the air, feel the wind on my face, I didn’t have to live entirely in a bubble, in which nothing was natural.

When I Grab it (so sad Uber is no more), like from the airport, or on my number-coded days, I always tell my drivers how come we have resigned ourselves to the idea of paying Nawasa or Maynilad a monthly fee for water we cannot drink? Since when has it been OK to pay for something you cannot fully enjoy? I mean, it’s water. God created water and, like air, supposedly like the earth itself—paradise even—it was created free for all, but now we’re buying water and, chin in the air, nose upturned, we have the gall to take pride in it—Hey I only drink Perrier!—when we should be ashamed we are letting whoever make us pay for something that, if we were in Rome, we can drink out of a public fountain free of charge. Speaking of Italy or Amsterdam or Singapore, where water on tap is completely potable, we should all make a stand and ban bottled water, especially in plastic containers, at hotel rooms and also at restaurants. In the Netherlands, you have to specify to the waiter that you prefer service water because it is 100 percent drinkable anyway and free of charge (and it won’t come in a plastic bottle that you will have to discard after first use and that will take 450 years to decompose). I mean, why? The first time I was in Paris, not out of any eco-consciousness but simply to save a few Francs, I was told to say, “Une carafe d’eau” when asking for water at restaurants and it was understood I wanted service water, which the waiter would serve in a clear flask, as much as I needed, free of charge and, more important, free of plastic.

At a swanky restaurant in Hong Kong, when bottled water was just beginning to encroach on our daily lifestyle, I looked around in search of a waiter and magically one appeared to ask if there was anything he could do for me. I said, “I’d like some water, please,” and quickly he said, “Perrier or Evian, sir?” Little did I know then that this was going to be the prevalent culture—“gas or no gas? Still or sparkling? Now, around the world, we are collectively buying one million plastic bottles every minute and, as more and more of China and the Asia Pacific region get caught up in the West’s idea of disposable, easy-to-carry, convenient, new, new, new, and “on the go” culture, we’re looking at a 20 percent increase in the consumption of water bottles by 2021.

This is serious! In The Guardian, it was also reported that “most plastic bottles used for soft drinks and water are made from polyethylene terephthalate, which is highly recyclable. But as their use soars across the globe, efforts to collect and recycle the bottles to keep them from polluting the oceans, are failing to keep up.”

I thought that it would be easy to rid my life of plastic straws, but you go order an iced tea or milkshake at any restaurant and it will be served in a glass with a straw on the side or even a straw already dipped in it. And I kick myself in the head for always forgetting to tell the waiter, “No straw, please!” What’s so inconvenient about drinking from the rim of a glass? I know some girls who even drink red wine from a straw to avoid staining their teeth. It’s just absurd. For  minimal convenience, we risk so much of our planet and our future in it. Do you know, for instance, that, according to the Last Plastic Straw Movement, 500 million plastic straws are used and discarded each day in the United States alone?  “That’s 175 billion a year filtering into landfills and littering our waterways and oceans,” said the group.

We’re drowning in plastic. And we might drown in plastic even before the sea levels rise on account of melting ice in the polar regions. In fact, for us here in the Philippines, the call must be ever more urgent, especially now that, according to a recent study by Dutch and American researchers, given its small size and relative to its drainage area, our very own Pasig River is “the second worst contributor of plastic waste to the ocean.” That’s 63,700 tons—or 57,787,668 kilograms—of plastic that Pasig dumps into the oceans every year!

Yet, there’s the Boracay problem and we’re at odds with each other on how to solve it. I don’t really know the story and, of course, the story changes, depending on whose interests are at stake, but I do not doubt that something has to be done, or else we will lose Boracay, like we have lost the Pasig River and Manila Bay and even Laguna de Bay.

It’s not like we do not have examples to go by, to know that, whether government or business or just ordinary people, we are each a threat to our environment and now, tit for tat, the environment is a threat to us.

The author is also on Twitter and Instagram as @aapatawaran and Facebook as Arnel Patawaran.