Is the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) delaying the implementation of the ban on non-environmentally acceptable products (NEAP), which primarily targets single-use plastics?
Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Undersecretary Benny Antiporda revealed in a virtual press conference Monday, June 28 that the DOST had written a letter to Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu wherein it asked for a change in approach as far as the NEAP list is concerned.
Cimatu sits as chairman of the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), while Antiporda is the alternate chairman. In the past few months, the NSWMC has received criticism for its supposed slow enforcement of the ban on NEAP-listed products amid the worsening solid waste problem in the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
The NEAP list is a key provision of Republic Act (RA) No.9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000. It took over 20 years for plastic straws and stirrers to be placed as the first two items on the NEAP list, but this has to be approved first by the agency-members of the NSWMC.
“Mayroon po tayong ibang government organization na naglabas din po ng kanilang saloobin na sinasabing kailangan pang i-delay ito (We have other government organizations that have expressed their views and said that this needs to be delayed),” Antiporda said.
“There’s a letter here that was written to the secretary, Roy A. Cimatu as the chairman of the NSWMC from the DOST, saying that as a member of the NSWMC represented by the DOST- Industrial Technology Development Institute [DOST-ITDI], ‘the department recommends a more holistic approach in developing policies regarding NEAP, to wit: finalization of the rapid assessment of plastic drinking straw and plastic coffee stirrer as potentially non-environmentally acceptable products [NEAP] conducted by the DOST-ITDI,'” he said.
Antiporda said the DOST also pitched for a “longer and gradual phase out of up to three years transition period” of the NEAP items that will be prohibited.
“This will also allow for finding and introducing reusable and recyclable alternatives that are viable to the market,” he further quoted the letter, which according to an insider was sent by the DENR no later than May 2021.
Under the existing provision, the industries will only be given a year to comply with the ban once the NEAP list is approved by the commission.
Antiporda had earlier said that it was incumbent upon the DOST to conduct research about the proposed items on the NEAP list prior to enforcement. But he chided the DOST Monday for taking too long with it.
“We could have conducted the reaserch a long time ago. We conducted our own study on this [plastic straws and stirrers] found out that these are really NEAP. The research should not be limited to life cycle assessment [LCA]. Any other research po pwede po nating tanggapin dito as long as we defend the welfare of our environment,” he said.
“What I’m trying to say here is…it’s been 20 years. The people are asking us what happened? This indicated in RA 9003. Now, if we will say that we need more time, I don’t think it is enough to tell the people that we need more time on this,” he added.
But when asked if he was categorically accusing DOST of delaying the policy on NEAP, Antiporda dialed down somewhat and brought up the local plastic industry instead.
According to him, the Philippine Plastic Industry Association and the Association of Metro Chemicals Manufacturers of the Philippines had written a letter to the DOST requesting it to air its concerns to the NSWMC.
“Sila po ang nag-request nito kung kaya’t naglabas ng ganitong liham ang secretary ng DOST para sa ating Secretary Roy A. Cimatu ( They’re the ones who request this that’s why the DOST secretary sent this letter to our Secretary Roy A. Cimatu).
“Basically, we cannot say that they are delaying but they are just giving [unretrievable] to the request of the Philippine Plastic Industry Association and the Association of Metro Chemicals Manufacturers of the Philippines…I would give them the benefit of the doubt that they are only acting on the request of the plastic industry,” the undersecretary said.
Antiporda further said: “Let us always remember that the DOST is a research-based agency wherein one of [their] major stakeholders when it comes to their research are the industr[ies]. It’s not always about the environment.”