(Photo by Gigie Cruz)
Pasay City/Quezon City. A day after the first anniversary of typhoon Ondoy, environmental health and justice advocates today went to the Senate to ask the lawmakers to enact a robust law to bring the reckless use and disposal of plastic bags under control.
To draw the Senators’ attention, members of the EcoWaste Coalition put “LeOndoy,” a plastic garbage monster made of used grocery bags, at the Senate gate to greet and remind legislators of the need to “tame the plastic monster.”
The event coincided with the joint hearing called by the Senate Committee on Trade and Commerce, chaired by Sen. Manny Villar, and the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, to discuss bills filed by Senators Loren Legarda, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Manny Villar on plastic bags.
“We hope that our lawmakers will prioritize such a critical environmental legislation and ensure its approval during the 15th Congress for the sake of Mother Earth. It will surely help if P-Noy will certify the bill as priority legislative measure,” added Gigie Cruz, another member of the Task Force on Plastics, who noted the failure of past Congresses to adopt essential regulations on plastics.
A text survey conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition among its partner groups revealed a range of proposals on what an effective law should stipulate to effectively prevent and reduce waste and pollution from plastic bags.
Among those who responded were Buklod Tao, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Kinaiyahan Foundation, Miss Earth Foundation, Mother Earth Foundation, Philippine Earth Justice Center and Zero Waste Philippines.
The top 12 ideas that the groups would like to see in the envisioned plastic law are as follows:
1. Ban the practice of giving free plastic bags to consumers in all commercial establishments.
2. Impose plastic bag environmental tax or levy.
3. Prohibit the use of plastic bags (i.e., thin film single-use plastic bags) as “banderitas”.
4. Phase out and eventually ban plastic sando bags.
5. Bar the importation of plastic bags and other single-use disposables such as polystyrene food and beverage containers.
6. Require commercial establishments to offer reusable alternatives to plastic bags.
7. Direct supermarkets and other retail and wholesale shops to allow their customers to bring and use “bayong” and other substitute containers for goods purchased.
8. Stipulate producer responsibility and accountability, including a mandatory take back for used bags.
9. Reinforce the prohibition against the littering, dumping and burning plastic waste.
10. Put up livelihood programs in the countryside to support the production of bayong and other reusable bags from native materials.
11. Provide continuing public education on the health, environmental and climate impacts of plastic bags.
12.Observe and participate in the “International Plastic Bag Free Day” every 3rd of July.
The push for a robust legislation on plastic bags, the groups said, is totally justified given the widespread contamination of the environment from the unabated production, use and disposal of plastic bags.
According to the groups, plastic bags end up mostly in the seas and dumpsites where they take a long period of time to break into miniscule bits of toxic chemicals, polluting the soil and water as well as the food chain when animals mistake them for food.
As explained by Sen. Villar in Senate Bill 1103, “plastics are essentially non-biodegradable, take more than 100 years to dissolve, pollute the air and water and damage natural habitat.”
Citing information from the UN report “ Marine Litter – trash that kills,” the EcoWaste Coalition said that plastics comprise 90% of floating marine debris worldwide. In the Philippines, a plastic discards survey organized by the EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace in 2006 showed that 76% of garbage found drifting in the historic Manila Bay were plastic materials, 51% of which were plastic bags.
Sen. Santiago in her explanatory note for Senate Bill 1543 said that “somewhere between 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and millions end up in the litter stream outside of landfills.”
In introducing Senate Bill 1368, Senate Legarda said that “in all instances plastic bags are easily moved from place to place, clogging drainages in streets, polluting waterways and even endangering fish and ecosystems,” adding that “the production of these bags requires considerable amounts of crude oil and natural gas.”
“We ask our lawmakers to heed the admonition from Mother Earth and support the envisaged ‘Ondoy Act’ to stop further plastic pollution of our communities,” the EcoWaste Coalition said.
Sen. Loren Legarda’s Senate Bill 1368:
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s Senate Bill 1543:
Sen. Manny Villar’s Senate Bill 1103:
UNEP Report “Marine Litter, trash that kills”