We are in the global map again… for the working reasons. The Philippines is identified as the largest contributing country to the global plastic waste in the oceans. According to the recent report of Ocean Cleanup in the Journal Science Advances, the country’s 4,820 rivers emit356,371 MT (metric tons) of plastic wastes into the oceans per year.The rest are India with 126,513 MT year, Malaysia with 73,098 MT per year, and China with 70,707 MT year.
Pasig River is also the most polluting river in the world, according to the report. Nineteen of the top 50 rivers in the worldthat carry the most pollution into the ocean come from the Philippines.
To make it more graphic, Filipinos throw out over 163 million sachets and 93 million plastic bags each day, according to the 2019 report of Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA). It’s ironic that ‘sachet marketing’ or the employment of sachets for various products from shampoo to soy sauce to powdered milk, has been celebrated as a successful strategy of Philippine businesses, only to become part of the country’s biggest pollutants to the world’s oceans.
Even the break-neck pace of mall expansions in the country in recent years, which rewarded publicly listed mall operators in the stock market, resulted in the accelerationof consumerism that churnedmillions of tons of plastic bags into the rivers and oceans.
Why is this happening? I blame our “throw-away” mentality. This started in the 1980s when the plastics and chemical industries sold the Filipino public on the convenience of single-use disposable items. Decades later, the throw-away mentality has led to packaging waste (mostly plastic) making up 2.7 million tons of plastic waste generated in the Philippines each year,20 percent of which is estimated to end up in the ocean, according to a McKinsey study.
Another alarming statistic form a 2020 study of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Philippines shows that only 40% of packaging waste in the Philippines is collected, and only 9% of the plastic waste is recycled; the rest are thrown away and ends up in the rivers.
How many times have you seen a jeepney passenger throwing away on the street a plastic packaging of a snack? If you’re driving along Pasig River, how many times have you seen a resident throwing away their trash onto the river? Your answer to these is probably quite a few times; but behind the scenes, as the studies dictate.
What’s more alarming is if you combine these plastic wastes thrown out into the rivers with the face shields and masks which count to millions, then its multiple times the disaster. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) already raised concerns over medical wastes, such as face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE), affecting dive sites and coral reefs in the Philippines.
The plastic waste quagmire is a gargantuan problem that needs to be address at multiple levels – government, business, community, and household levels.
“The single-use plastics regulation bill, which consolidated 38 existing bills seeking to phase-out or regulate plastic bags, sachets, utensils, was approved by congress in March”, as reported by Eco-Business, which is up for approval by the Senate before it can be signed into law by the president. The business intelligence firm further averred that “a nationwide ban on single-use plastics in the Philippines will hinder the country’s transition towards a circular economy”.
In fact, the bill includes extended producer’s responsibility (EPR) scheme, “where private companies using plastic will be responsible for paying the cost of its collection, sorting, recycling and safe disposal.”This is just appropriate since the big consumer goods companies are accountable for the recovery of their plastic and packaging materials.
On the household and community levels, a community-based waste management must be initiated by the local government,entrepreneurs, schools, and residents. An example how tourist destination in Sorsogon is practicing community awareness and waste management.
As reported by Rappler, Donsolin Sorsogon “generates more waste and plastic during peak season from February to June, when whale sharks migrate and pass by the area.” Further, “their plastic reduction efforts are largely done to conserve the quality of the whale sharks’ habitats”. Moreover, since 2019, WWF Philippines in Donsol “has been coordinating with the local government to conduct training and house-to-house orientations on waste segregation and composting to make Donsol a plastic pollution-free coastal town.”
Passage and execution of waste management laws are urgent to quell the dire plastic waste situation. Education of children in schools should include proper waste management, segregation, and disposal. Communities and NGOs should work doubly hard to educate households and community stakeholders on the proper segregation and disposal of plastic wastes, especially PPEs.
This is urgent.The author is the Founder &CEO of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He is Fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation.He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. The author may be emailed at [email protected]