We do not exactly know when this horrible pandemic would end, but one thing is sure when you talk to scientists, environmentalists, and conservationists – there is a looming pandemic that concerns the environment.
More than a year of wearing face shields, donning PPEs, having food delivered in disposable plastic containers, and using single-use plastic utensils would translate to an environment crisis of epic proportions. And let’s not get started with other non-plastic trash such as disposable face masks, nitrile gloves, and empty syringes with those sharp needles.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic but a lot of these medical wastes are not recyclable. After facing the battle to save lives and livelihood against the invisible virus, we have to face the reality that there are consequences of the pandemic, and among the direst one concerns the visible trash that would find its way to our rivers, seas, and oceans.
But all hope is not lost. Just recently, my attention was called about a “meeting of minds” between civil society organizations and environmental groups advocating for the phase-out of single-use plastics (SUPs). Well, we have to start somewhere before we face the tons of trash resulting from the health pandemic. This is, in my opinion, a classic example of “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
These groups have been calling for the immediate passage of the proposed “Single-use Plastic Products Regulation Bill,” which aims to dramatically reduce the dangerous effects of unnecessary plastics on people’s health, the environment, and climate.
I got a statement from the Climate Change Commission (CCC) who hosted an online conversation regarding this proposal. The CCC said: “The civil society organizations presented their programs and projects across communities to address the problems caused by plastic pollution, and shared plastic-free alternatives in local enterprises and alternative delivery systems and reuse solutions.”
“We are pushing (companies) to redesign their products or sell their products without using plastic. It’s a whole system. We all have roles to play,” said Froilan Grate, regional coordinator of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and president of Mother Earth Foundation.
That statement was supported by Gloria Ramos, vice president of Oceana Philippines: “We know that the solution is in our hands but we need to work harder, work together, collaborate, and it’s important to have consumers who are informed, and fully engaged in decision-making. Our call is to really stop plastic pollution at the source. The National Solid Waste Management Commission should already issue the list of non-environmentally acceptable products and packaging. This will go a long way in stopping plastic pollution at the very source.”
Checking the legislation backing this ban of single-use plastic, the CCC said that House Bill No. 9147, or the Single-Use Plastics Products Regulation Act, was already approved on second reading. The bill, sponsored by the House Committee on Ecology chair and co-authored by Antique Rep. Loren Legarda, sought to phase out various types of plastics in the coming years. In the Senate, a similar bill was filed last June 1 by Sen. Manny Pacquiao, which is called the Single-Use Plastics Regulation Bill or SBN 2262.
Like what I said, these efforts from civil society and the Congress are steps into the right direction. There is still a long road ahead, especially if we consider this one dire statistic – 59.7 billion pieces of plastic sachets are thrown by Filipinos each year. The numbers are too glaring to ignore and the tragedy would soon unfold before our faces. Before that truly happens, let us reconsider if we need single-use plastics in our lives, especially now that we are slowly opening our economy and going back to our pre-pandemic habits.
(Joe Chua is the editor of the Environment page. )