Earth Day and beyond


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April is Earth Month, with Earth Day falling on April 22. This same month, urban areas like Metro Manila experienced its highest recorded temperature ever, reaching 38.8 degrees Celsius at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Pasay City on April 27, 2024. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration also reported that this has surpassed the previous record of 38.6 degrees Celsius set on May 17, 1915, in Manila City.

The Philippines also ranks first in the 2023 World Risk Index. According to a study conducted by the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict and Bündnis Entwicklung Hilft, the Philippines is the most at-risk with a score of 46.86. The country has held a high spot on the list for 13 consecutive years.

With this, there is now an urgent need to care for the environment and the planet, which is no longer merely statistics in books and reports but a reality we can experience firsthand today. Similar to the inaugural Earth Day in 1970, the movement serves as a reminder and a call for people to prioritize environmental conservation and sustainability., the world’s largest recruiter to the environmental movement, unveiled the 2024 theme: “Planet vs. Plastics.” It remains steadfast in its commitment to ending plastic pollution by “demanding a 60 percent reduction in the production of all plastics by 2040.” 

“The word environment means what surrounds you. In the case of plastics we have become the product itself—it flows through our blood stream, adheres to our internal organs, and carries with it heavy metals known to cause cancer and disease. Now this once-thought amazing and useful product has become something else, and our health and that of all other living creatures hangs in the balance,” said President Kathleen Rogers. “The ‘Planet vs. Plastics’ campaign is a call to arms, a demand that we act now to end the scourge of plastics and safeguard the health of every living being upon our planet.” 

The organization revealed that last year, 500 million plastic bags—equivalent to one million bags per minute—were produced. Additionally, in the US alone, 100 billion plastic beverage containers were sold last year.

In the Philippines, we produce 61,000 metric tons of waste every day, a quantity enough to fill 37 Olympic-sized pools, according to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. This roughly equates to 163 million sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags, and 45 million thin-film bags. Approximately, 33 percent of our waste ends up in landfills and dumpsites, while 35 percent is leaked into oceans and environments. 

So what can you do? Start small. Begin by bringing your own shopping bags when you go grocery shopping and eliminate single-use plastics by carrying your own water bottle. These actions serve as the building blocks toward a greater understanding of our responsibility to care for the planet. Some might argue that these small actions are insufficient. However, I believe that collectively, our small actions can lead to significant changes when we unite and take action for a healthier planet and a brighter future.

The action might not seem monumental now, but the idea behind it is significant. Take, for instance, the “Kuha ka sa Tingi” initiative by Greenpeace Philippines, the Quezon City government, and Impact Hub Manila, which aims to address plastic pollution through the use of refill and reuse systems. This sustainable initiative encourages consumers to bring their own reusable containers for liquid detergent, multipurpose cleaner, hair shampoo, and more, contributing to the reduction of plastic waste culture. 

“Being sustainable and eco-friendly doesn’t have to be expensive,” Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said, “and limiting our plastic generation is inclusive, affordable, and accessible to all, including those from socioeconomic sectors and urban areas.” The mayor plans to transform 5,000 more stores into community-based refill hubs this year.

If we can address sachet plastics and establish more refill centers today, imagine what we can accomplish together in the future.

(Rey Robes Ilagan is the editor of Manila Bulletin’s Environment and Sustainability section.)