Environmentalists Urge Duterte to Stop Plastic Garbage Menace

A week before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), green activists exhorted the government to decisively act against unrestrained plastic production and consumption and the consequent environmental pollution.

The Earth Island Institute, EcoWaste Coalition, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA), Greenpeace, Mother Earth Foundation and Nilad urged the Duterte government to enact a robust strategy to prevent and reduce plastic garbage from land sources that is finding its way to the oceans.

The groups reiterated its call on the government to enact a blanket ban on single use plastic bags and other vital measures, including extended producer responsibility (EPR) and environmental levy on plastics, following a cleanup drive and waste audit last Saturday at Freedom Island off the coast of ParaƱaque City.

Some 125 people took part in the event, including Filipinos and visiting environmentalists from Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa from Africa, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong,  India, Indonesia, Malaysia  and Taiwan from Asia and the Pacific, Argentina, Brazil and Chile from Latin America, and Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, UK and USA from Europe and North America.

The environmentalists from Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America and North America are here for a week-long meeting to address plastic pollution of the planet and come up with strategies to move societies to a sustainable, zero waste future.

Of the 259 sacks of waste collected (weighing 1,482 kilos), 79 percent were plastic materials, of which 20 percent were junk food wrappers and sachets, 17 percent plastic bags, 12 percent composite packaging, 9 percent food packaging, 7 percent polystyrene containers, 7 percent diaper liners, 4 percent hard plastics, 1 percent drinking straw and 1 percent plastic twine.

“To dramatically cut plastic use and disposal across the country, we urge the Duterte government to put the plastic bag ban among its top legislative priorities in the 17th Congress.  We expect our lawmakers to cross party lines and stop this ugly plastic pollution that is defiling every corner of our country, including our rich but fragile marine ecosystems,” said Aileen Lucero, National Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.

“Our legislators should also consider imposing EPR and environmental levy on plastic bags that will internalize external costs to trim down uncontrolled plastic use and littering, while providing incentives that will enhance shift in attitude and preference in favor of reusable alternatives,” she added.

Froilan Grate, Asia-Pacific Coordinator of GAIA, cautioned national and local policy makers against passing measures exempting oxo-degradable plastic bags from the comprehensive ban on disposable plastic bags being sought by ecology groups.

“Oxo-degradable bags, which are also made from petroleum-based polymers, are not exactly climate and environment-friendly.  Their proliferation, particularly in cities and municipalities that have adopted plastic bag ban regulations, has only reinforced the throw-away culture that is choking our surroundings with disposables and creating serious environmental and health crisis,” he said.

“Our mounting plastic garbage has likewise become a magnet for waste-to-energy incinerator vendors and other quick-fix pushers who want to take advantage of the weak enforcement of the country’s ban on waste incineration,” he noted.

For her part, Abigail Aguilar, Toxics Campaigner of Greenpeace said:  “Now, more than ever, Greenpeace is focused on working with a global movement aimed at reducing overall plastics use, but also towards protecting biodiversity and ecosystems, and changing a lifestyle of convenience from a throwaway mentality to mindful consumption.”

Numerous studies, including some that were published in 2016, point to the need for global action to deal with plastic pollution.

The paper “Plastic Debris Is a Human Health Issue” by Dutch researchers A. Dick Vethaak  and Heather A. Leslie stated that “the global threat of highly persistent plastic waste accumulating and fragmenting in the world’s oceans, inland waters and terrestrial environments is becoming increasingly evident.”

“Humans are being exposed to both plastic particles and chemical additives being released from the plastic debris of consumer society. This material is fragmenting, leaching and spreading throughout the biosphere, including indoor and outdoor air, soil, and water systems,” the researchers said.

According to the report “Contaminants in Marine Plastic Pollution: The New Toxic Time-Bomb” by Dr Mariann Lloyd-Smith and Joanna Immig, “marine plastic is not only entangling and drowning wildlife, it is being mistaken for food and ingested along with its toxic contaminants.”

“Marine plastics and in particular microplastics, provide a global transport medium for the most toxic chemicals into the marine food chain and ultimately, to humans,” the Australian environmental advocates said.