Plastics still top pollutant in Metro Manila coastal clean-up

Published October 7, 2020, 2:41 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera-Ruiz

Amid growing calls to regulate the use of single-use plastics, these materials still topped the list of most common trash collected in Metro Manila during the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day held last month.


The Department of Environment and Natural Resources-National Capital Region (DENR-NCR) released an infographic on Wednesday showing the top 10 items recovered from 214 cleanup sites last Sept. 19.

Food wrappers (76,516 pieces), grocery bags (67,986 pieces), “other trash” 65,320 pieces; take-out containers (49,100 pieces), plastic beverage bottles (47,036 pieces), straws/stirrers (35,151 pieces); styrofoam take-out containers (32,847 pieces), plastic bottle caps (25,566 pieces), beverage sachets (23,545 pieces), and beverage cans (17,707 pieces) composed the top 10 commonly found items along coasts and other water bodies in the metropolis.

Other trash are “usually biodegradable waste like twigs, branches, leaves, coco parts, which are not specifically cited in the list of wastes indicated in the monitoring tool.”

The DENR-NCR list showed some 610,812 trash items with a combined weight of 28,767 kilograms were collected by 1,765 volunteers during the whole day cleanup.

Phase out of single-use plastics pushed

“The data generated from the latest coastal cleanup drive underline the need to actively enforce the provisions of Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and related local ordinances requiring the proper management of all discards and prohibiting arbitrary waste disposal that leads to environmental degradation and pollution,” said EcoWaste Coalition zero waste campaigner Jove Benosa.

“The fact that plastic accounts for most of the waste collected validates the urgency of addressing this ubiquitous land and marine pollutant at source,” he emphasized.

“It’s high time for Congress to enact a comprehensive legislation phasing out single-use plastics (SUPs) such as plastic grocery bags, food containers, straws and stirrers and other problematic disposables,” he suggested.

Benosa also urged manufacturers and entrepreneurs to switch to alternative product packaging and delivery systems that will cut the unsustainable production and consumption of throw-away plastics.

Bigger picture

Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said “the number of plastic waste collected during DENR’s waste audit is staggering, but in truth, it’s only a fraction of the problem.”

“With an estimated 5 trillion plastic particles floating in our oceans, the plastic crisis is more than a mere waste management issue. We have to address the problem at its source, examine plastic’s entire lifecycle with its health and environmental impacts from the extraction of raw materials up to its disposal as waste,” Ledesma said.

She pointed out that national policies regulating the production and use of single-use plastics is crucial “if we want to stem the tide of plastic waste,” while at the same time, “corporations must also do their part.”

“If you look at the waste audit results, plastic food packaging and beverage bottles are in the top 5. Companies have to change single-use plastic packaging with reusable alternatives, while also implementing refill and reuse systems to deliver their products. Corporations committing to changes like these will make a significant impact,” Ledesma said.

Long overdue mandate

Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos inquired from the National Solid Waste Management Commission, chaired by the DENR, on whether it would finally implement a ban on single-use plastics nationwide by including it in the list of Non-Environmentally Acceptable Products and Packaging (NEAPP) under RA 9003.

She is hoping the Commission will have a clear answer as to when it will be implemented.

“Records in the deliberations of the bill which became Republic Act 9003 show that DENR was not ready then with that list, as declared by then Senator Loren Legarda. Thus, the mandate was eventually given by RA 9003 to the Commission— sadly, it is also sleeping on it,” Ramos said.

She pointed out that 15 local governments have called on the NSWMC to have the NEAPP list and include single-use plastics, and more will be forthcoming.

“It is unfair to make the LGUs the scapegoats for the voluminous unmanageable plastics in our landscape and oceans. The Commission has to perform this mandate – now,” she added.

The NEAPP list, Ramos noted, will “automatically prohibit the production, usage, distribution and trade of the goods–this is in accord with RA 9003 to prioritize reduction of the waste at source.”

“The Commission early this year in a resolution came up with a list of ‘non-essential’ single-use plastics banned in the government sector. It could have exercised political will by including these items as NEAPP and consequently prohibited nationwide,” she stressed.