The problem with plastic materials is that many of them last forever. While some types are considered biodegradable, many require industrial-level processes to be recycled or broken down to harmless materials.
Plastics are very useful for many industries. For example, up to a fourth of all packaging used globally are made of plastic. Plastic packaging helps food stay fresher, longer. Plastic containers also weigh less, contributing to fuel and transportation savings.
Despite their usefulness, plastics are a serious problem. In a 2018 National Geographic article, the estimated amount of plastics used since the 1950s is estimated to be around 9.2 billion tons. Seventy-five percent of that — or some 6.9 billion tons — are already plastic waste material. Even worse, sixty-eight percent, or 6.3 billion tons, escaped into the environment, never making it to a waste basket or bin — let alone a proper waste disposal facility.
In 2015, engineering professor Jenna Jambeck estimated that an average of 8.8 million tons a year were dumped carelessly—mostly in Asia. Much of this ended up in the ocean, where the plastic waste would become smaller and smaller. These are ingested by fish and other sea creatures, and hence eventually enter the food chain. Such waste has polluted our water to such degree and magnitude that it is highly possible that consuming fish caught from the ocean involves ingesting microscopic pieces of plastic.
Sadly, the Philippines is one of five countries that contributes the most plastic trash that leaks into the oceans, according to the Ocean Conservancy and McKinsey Center for Business and Environment. Some have blamed this on our country’s “sachet economy,” or our “tingi” culture, which has incentivized companies to sell their products in single-use plastic-and-aluminum sachets, instead of in bulk. It also appears that we lack the infrastructure to deal with plastic waste, considering that we generate around 2.7 million tons of plastic waste annually.
One way to address the huge problem is to approach it in manageable pieces. That is why I filed Senate Bill 954, which aims to reduce and, in a way, regulate the use of plastic straws.
Rather than call for an outright ban on the use of plastic straws, the bill will regulate its use, charging P2 per straw. However, plastic straws or tubes used for medical purposes, such as those used by the elderly and the disabled, will be exempt from this fee.
In commercial establishments, straws will also be available only upon request, rather than being automatically added to drinks. In the same line of thinking, products such as juice boxes will not anymore be sold with a plastic straw attached to the packaging. Straws will be available at the point of sale, with the fee applied there.
Straw disposal and collection after use in all commercial establishments will also be systematized for recycling. Hopefully, this will also encourage manufacturers to create product packaging that will not require the use of straws.
Aside from the introduction of this bill, it is also important to investigate how older laws — such as RA 9003, which provides for the creation of an ecological solid waste management program — have been implemented. The same goes for the many projects in the various government agencies which address the many facets of plastic waste disposal, such as the members of the National Solid Waste Management Commission: the DILG, DTI, DOST, DA, DOH, DPWH, DENR, and local government units, among others. The DTI and BOI also have a plastics industry roadmap, which seeks to address standards and related policies related to the plastic production cycle here in the country. If there needs to be amendments or new bills filed, then by all means, these should be undertaken immediately.
Ultimately, the issue of paying two pesos for the use of a plastic straw should be viewed as only one step in a host of initiatives that address not just plastic waste management, but larger environmental issues as well.
Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer, once wrote that “The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”
It’s imperative that we start thinking about how our waste management is affecting our only home. Crafting and executing proper laws are a good start.
Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years — nine years as representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He recently won another term in the Senate. (Email: email@example.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)./WDJ