Finally, a ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers

Published February 6, 2021, 12:14 AM

by Manila Bulletin

The National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) approved last Tuesday a resolution banning plastic soft-drinks straws and plastic stirrers, now commonly used in restaurants in the country. These single-use plastic materials end up in huge volumes in the nation’s garbage dumps and eventually in the world’s ocean depths, for the simple reason that plastic is not biodegradable and lasts up to 450 years.

The ban is in implementation of Republic Act (RA) 9003, the Ecological Waste Management Act approved on January 26, 2001. That law listed many materials that were filling the nation’s garbage dumps, including materials containing toxic additives that threaten human health and the environment.

It might be asked why it took the government 20 years to implement a provision of law approved in 2001. Congress has often been criticized for taking too long to approve urgently needed bills, but that is due to the fact that Congress includes so many clashing interests that it is often difficult to achieve consensus and approval. But it saw the growing threat to the environment as early as 20 years ago when it approved RA 9003.

In this connection, it might be added that Secretary Roy Cimatu of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources three weeks ago ordered the closure of 200 open dumps in the country by March, also in compliance with the same Ecological Waste Management Act of 2001. Some 385 other open dumps in the country had been closed earlier.

Garbage is to be expected in any urban setting but local governments are supposed to provide sanitary landfills, not just open dumps that pose health hazards. Households are also encouraged to recycle reusable materials such as bottles and cardboard boxes. Special attention and treatment is needed for toxic wastes such as those from hospitals.

The ban on plastic straws and stirrers is of special importance worldwide because of their volume and longevity. Millions of these small items are used every day in restaurants all over the world, then dumped after just one use.

Billions of these non-biodegradable plastics have been disposed of in garbage dumps all over the world for over a century and since plastic takes up to 450 years before it disintegrates, they end up in the world’s oceans. The ban ordered by the National Solid Waste Management Commission last Tuesday is thus our contribution to the solution of a world problem.

Plastics have been a great invention that saved the world’s trees and forests, providing solid and stronger substitutes for use as materials for boxes, bags, clothes, shoes, furniture, household appliances and factory equipment, and construction materials for roads and buildings.

It is hoped that more quickly degradable plastics can be invented so they will cease to be a problem for the environment. Until such time, it is best to end the use of plastics as single-use straws and stirrers to save our environment and the world’s oceans.