By Imelda V. Abano
On World Environment Day, the huge plastic pollution problem in Metro Manila and other megacities in Asia was brought back on the global agenda.
Plastic facts are staggering. By 2025, the world’s ocean will contain nearly 250 million metric tons of plastic, according the 2015 study of the Ocean Conservancy. Roughly 8 million metric tons of plastic leaks out of the global economy and into the ocean each year. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam contribute more than half of the oceans’ plastic. These countries have long been struggling with population growth, unmanageable plastics consumption and waste management.
The Philippines is among the countries with the most number of plastic wastes being dumped into the seas, despite the enactment of Republic 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act since 2001. The country generates about 2.7 million metric tons of plastic waste and half a million metric tons of plastic-waste leakage each year, data from the Ocean Conservancy stated. In Metro Manila, which is home to more than 12 million people, about 8,600 tons of waste per day are generated.
“ We are drowning in our own waste. It is time to rethink the way we throw things, especially those that do not rot, like plastic,” said Environmental Lawyer Antonio Oposa, Jr. “ There are 3 R’s in the world of waste management—Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. But there should only be one R—that is to Remove the word ‘waste’ from our mental and working vocabulary.”
At the Senate, Senator Loren Legarda recently filed Senate Bill 430 or the Plastic Bags Regulation Act that aims to “strictly regulate the production, importation, sale and use of plastic bags.”
“ We need to reduce wastage and veer away from a throwaway culture because the waste that we produce, especially plastics that take hundreds of years to degrade, will affect both our environment and human life,” Legarda said.
With this pressing environmental problem in the country, various environmental groups called for ‘action from all fronts’ particularly from companies most responsible for producing single-use plastic.
New data from waste and brand audits conducted in five Philippine cities confirm results of earlier coastal clean-up audits that multinational brands are the country’s top sources of plastic pollution.
Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and PT Torabika Eka Semesta were among the multinational companies that are the biggest sources of plastic wastes, as revealed in a waste assessment and brand audit, conducted by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and Mother Earth Foundation (MEF). This is consistent with the released result in September 2017 that also identified these companies as top-polluters in a brand audit conducted by the Break Free from Plastic movement, including Greenpeace, in Freedom Island in Metro Manila.
The findings were based on audits conducted in Malabon and Quezon City in the National Capital Region; the City of San Fernando, Pampanga in Region 3; Batangas City in Region 4-A; Nueva Vizcaya in Region 2; and Tacloban City in Region 8.
Of the total waste collected in the identified areas, 61.26% is biodegradable; 19.17% is recyclable; 16.12% is residual; and 3.44%, hazardous. Of the residual plastic waste collected, a whopping 74% is branded throwaway packaging. Only 10 companies are responsible for 56% of all the branded throwaway packaging, and 40% of all the throwaway packaging was produced by the six MNCs.
“This shows that companies must be compelled to stop using throwaway packaging. Even if we ban single-use bags, plastic straws, and other problematic products, we won’t be able to curb plastic pollution if companies don’t change. They need to do their part to reduce plastic waste by shifting to innovative and ecological ways to distribute their products,” said Froilan Grate, regional coordinator of GAIA Asia Pacific and president of Mother Earth Foundation.
These companies must get their acts together and start the reduction of single-use plastic packaging in their products, said Angelica Carballo Pago, campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines.
“ Rather than just relying on individuals who are sincerely changing their habits in using plastics, these companies, who are making a lot of money from consumers, should invest in long-term solutions that will curb plastic pollution in our cities and waterways,” Pago said.
Greenpeace urged companies to do away with single-use packaging and instead introduce ecologically-sound, long-term innovations that will help alleviate the mounting plastic pollution problem, which primarily affects the poor and marginalized sectors of society. Plastic pollution is a multifaceted challenge that encompasses many environmental ills – from polluting our oceans, to promotion of unhealthy diets, to fueling climate change.
Greenpeace Climate & Energy Campaigner Khevin Yu says that consumers can help the reduction not just of plastic pollution, but carbon emissions as well, through their everyday choices.
“By refusing plastic, which is a byproduct of fossil fuels, consumers are breaking free not just from plastics, but also from dirty energy. This is a simple yet valuable act that can help end the fossil fuel industry’s grip on our economy, our politics, and our lives,” said Yu.
Virginia Benosa Llorin, Food and Ecological Agriculture campaigner of Greenpeace Philippines, said that the promotion of supposedly cheap but unhealthy food, tainted with toxic chemicals and preservatives, and wrapped in single-use plastic packaging, is costing Filipino citizens more, especially low-income families.
“It is communities in marginalized sectors who have to deal with these interconnected problems — not just dealing with the single-use plastic trash from our cities and towns, but also the cost to their health, from both the plastic pollution and the unhealthy food that these big corporations peddle,” Benosa Llorin said.
photo credit: Greenpeace