Facing the plastics crisis

Published August 5, 2022, 12:05 AM

by Johannes Chua


Environment writers have been calling out the attention of authorities and our country’s leaders to look into the plastic pollution crisis that is now happening. This is an inevitable outcome of a long pandemic that relied on plastics, especially single-use plastics, to protect us from an unseen enemy — the virus that causes Covid.

Personal protective equipment (PPE), goggles, face shields, gloves, coveralls or lab gowns, head covers, shoe covers, etc. are all made of plastic. These have become the tools to help stop the spread of the virus and to protect medical frontliners. Add to that, the use of plastic was so enormous as almost all deliveries (from our online shopping to orders from fast food outlets) sent to our homes during the lockdowns were wrapped in plastic. So, is plastic friend or foe?

As I talked to environment advocates, they too realized that it would be very difficult to totally eradicate the use of plastics, especially single-use plastics, in our economic activity. They always referred to the role of plastics during the two-year health pandemic and the rise in its demand even though people are aware of its dire consequences for the planet.

Considering this situation, the government is not standing idly, though I can observe that its reaction to the plastics crisis is tepid at best. For one, there is already a bill that would regulate and eventually phase out single-use plastics (SUPs) in the country, which passed in July 2021 in the House. With 190 affirmative votes, zero negative votes, and one abstention, the chamber passed on third reading House Bill 9147, which seeks to “regulate the production, importation, sale, distribution, provision, use, recovery, collection, recycling, and disposal of single-use plastic products.” There are still issues with regards to its passing in the Senate as there are groups who want a tougher and more comprehensive bill to regulate SUPs. Let’s see what will happen soon.

A few months back, environment organization The Climate Reality Project Philippines informed me that they partnered with development studies students from Ateneo to “develop a policy note addressing single-use plastic policies in several cities in Metro Manila.”

“Despite the lack of a national policy, data from the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) showed that about 30 percent of local government units (LGUs) in the country have some form of policy to regulate the use of plastics, particularly plastic bags. These local ordinances have different scopes, different definitions of single-use plastics, and different sanctions.”

The policy note highlighted the best practices from Marikina City, Makati City, and Quezon City that could be adopted by other LGUs to improve their own plastic waste management and reduction systems. It also included recommendations directed at improving current LGU policies and enabling better anti-single-use plastic implementation.

“Following this initiative, we saw the need to create a compendium of local policies, programs, and initiatives on managing plastic waste to create a community of practice and to amplify the clamor for a national law that will comprehensively and effectively address the proliferation of single-use plastics in our communities,” said the group.

So these are the questions that we, as citizens of this land, need to ask one another: “Does your LGU have an ordinance regulating the use of plastics? Does your local grocery or market encourage you to bring bayongs or eco-bags? Do you have community recycling or upcycling facilities? How about consumer incentives programs, such as trash-to-cash or plastic waste in exchange for groceries or environmental points?”

The group believes in the power of information to change lives and help communities become greener in the process. We can’t just wait for the government to lead the way if they have bureaucratic entanglements to sort out.

This is the reason why Climate Reality launched an initiative called “Bawal Plastikan,” where they ask citizens across the country about the policies and programs against single-use plastics in their city or municipality.

“Through this campaign, we aim to have a better picture of the efforts to curtail the plastic crisis at the local level, in the absence of a national law on plastics,” said the group. “Bawal Plastikan — loosely translating to ‘no pretending/ faking’ — supports the notion that the journey toward sustainable production and consumption and circular economy must be genuine and inclusive for all Filipinos.”
Information is power, indeed. In order to truly fight for the planet, we should be armed with the right battle “gear.” The plastics crisis is looming over the horizon, and day after day, its scourge is getting nearer. We should not be caught off guard or standing idly by the wayside. It’s time to raise our voices.