Schools urged to ban plastic bags and styro

Signage at the gate of De La Salle University - Dasmarinas, Cavite. Photo by Tin Vergara
Quezon City. A few days before the next school year, waste and pollution watchdog EcoWaste Coalition urged education authorities to consider banning disposable plastic bags and polystyrene products in school premises to minimize waste and promote zero waste.

“The education department has a clear task under the law to ‘strengthen the integration of environmental concerns in school curricula at all levels, with particular emphasis on the theory and practice of waste management principles like waste minimization’, among others,” said Christina Vergara, Zero Waste Program Officer of the EcoWaste Coalition, referring to Section 56 of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 or Republic Act 9003.

“Disposable plastic bags and polystyrene are highly problematic in terms of their management, making them non-environmentally acceptable,” she continued.

“They usually end up as residual wastes with nowhere to go but the dumps, adding to the already voluminous polluting garbage there,” she stressed.

The coalition have observed that many local governments have seen the importance of waste minimization by banning or, at least, regulating the use of disposable plastic bags and polystyrene.

“These LGUs are correct, since after you have undertaken composting and recycling, you usually find yourself wondering how you would ecologically deal with plastic bags and polystyrene,” said Vergara.

She added that “while pro-plastics say these products can be recycled, the truth is their recycling rates are very low."

“Also, plastic bags and polystyrene cannot truly be recycled back to their original form, rather they can only be downcycled into products that are of low quality,” she clarified.

Among schools, the De La Salle University (DLSU) – Dasmarinas, Cavite has been reaping the benefits of being plastic bag-free since 2011 and styrofoam-free since 2005: “We have tremendously reduced the amount of residual wastes in the campus, lessen our operational expenses related to waste management, and imbued good values that led to a change in behavior toward good stewardship among our students and school personnel,” said Marlon Pereja, Director of Environmental Resource Management Center of DLSU-Dasmarinas.

Pereja added that “the values and practice of ecological stewardship, which should start at home, should be strengthened in the school, if we are to produce citizens that truly care for the environment.”

To make schools free from the burden of dealing with disposable plastic bags and polystyrene, the EcoWaste Coalition advised school administrators to craft and adopt policies with at least the following minimum provisions:

a) Phase out of disposable plastic bags and polystyrene, such as polystyrene cups, styro plates, fork and spoon, inside school premises;

b) Use of reusable containers or packaging for students and school personnel’s “baon”;

c) Use of reusable table wares instead of disposable ones in school canteen;

d) Use of reusable plates, utensils, and containers during school meetings, gatherings, and parties.

The Coalition was quick to say that these policies should go hand-in-hand with the implementation of ecological solid waste management, namely segregation, composting, recycling, and reuse, in the school, to truly attain zero waste.

Some of the schools that have adopted policies banning disposable plastic bags and polystyrene aside from DLSU-Dasmarinas are Cong. RA Calalay Memorial Elementary School in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City; St. Scholastica's College in San Fernando City, Pampanga; and all public and private schools in Batangas City, Batangas.

Waste audit conducted by EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace, and Mother Earth Foundation in the Manila Bay last year found that among plastic wastes (which topped the list of the bay’s marine debris at 61.9%), plastic bags were pegged at 23.2% and polystyrene debris at 7.5%.

The same group’s waste audits of the bay in 2006 and 2010 also showed that among plastic debris, plastic bags and polystyrene together remained number 1.