By Chito Chavez
Various environmental health groups on Thursday have cited the urgency to enforce plastic pollution prevention policies and measures as the country observes the “Month of the Ocean” amid the novel coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
In commemoration of the “Month of the Ocean” as per Presidential Proclamation No. 57, Oceana Philippines, Mother Earth Foundation and the EcoWaste Coalition renewed their plea for the creation of more laws and regulations that will protect the oceans, especially from chemical and plastic pollutants.
“The uncontrolled production and use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics (SUPs) and the indiscriminate disposal of plastic and other pollutants from land-based sources are threatening the health of the world’s oceans and the very survival of human beings and other life forms, the groups warned.
The Quezon City based EcoWaste Coalition has strongly pushed for the creation of a “comprehensive policy banning throw-away plastic packaging’’.
With that, Jove Benosa, EcoWaste Coalition Zero Waste campaigner, said this will reduce the manufacture of plastic packaging materials and prevent chemical and waste pollution that will “ensure the successful implementation of such a policy nationwide while non-toxic reusable bags and containers are actively promoted and supported.”
Likewise, Benosa drew attention to the urgency of adopting a national ban on waste importation and to ratifying the Basel Ban Amendment, an international law prohibiting the transfer of hazardous waste and other wastes from developed to developing countries.
“We need to draw up and enforce holistic policies to put a stop to this devastating pollution, as well as to the unrestrained coastal developments, overfishing, and climate change that are damaging the oceans,” the groups emphasized.
Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines also pressed for the inclusion of single use plastics (SUPs) in the list of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging (NEAP) that the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) is mandated to release under Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
“We strongly urge the NSWMC, chaired by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and which is under the Office of the President, to draw up the long-overdue list of items that are ‘unsafe in production, use, post-consumer use, or that produce or release harmful by-products when discarded,’ with SUPs on top of the list,” Ramos said.
“The effect would be a tremendous reduction at the source of plastic pollution as production, use and trade of single use plastics as a NEAP will be prohibited, with a hefty fine and other sanctions,” she added.
Sonia Mendoza, chairman of Mother Earth Foundation, cited the need for a “toxics in packaging disclosure law that will control the presence of lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and other chemicals of concern in packaging materials”.
“Lead and other hazardous substances in packaging materials become part of the municipal solid waste sent to dumpsites, landfills, incinerators and cement kilns or disposed of in water bodies, posing a risk to public health and the environment,” Mendoza said.
To mainstream sustainable alternatives to SUPs, Mendoza proposed that the government should also ensure that the waste management plans of local government units include a provision promoting and making available to the public reusable bags made of non-toxic materials such as abaca, bamboo, buri, cotton, pandan, water hyacinth and similar materials to replace SUPs.
She noted that seven out of 10 Filipinos are in favor of banning SUPs based on the SWS survey stressing that “we do not recommend paper as the material to replace SUPs”.
According to the report “Waste Trade in the Philippines,” co-published by Greenpeace and the EcoWaste Coalition and released last March, “the country’s exposure to continued waste imports is concerning.”
The groups cited the unlawful importation of thousands of tons of contaminated plastic waste from Canada and South Korea — falsely declared as materials for recycling — as glaring examples.
“Preventing the entry of all waste imports into the country (including waste labeled for recycling) is the best strategy for countries such as the Philippines to protect its citizens and the environment from the harmful impacts of waste dumping,” the report concluded.