A dead whale washed ashore on a beach in Compostela Valley in Mindanao last Friday. An examination of the body showed it had ingested 40 kilograms of plastic. It had subsequently died of starvation and dehydration.
A week earlier, we published a front-page photo of a crab trapped inside a discarded milk tea cup in the Verde Island passage in Batangas City. The photo, a release of international environmental group Greenpeace showed the increasing incidence of sealife dying from the plastic wastes mounting in the seas around our islands.
As early as 2017, Greenpeace reported the finding that the Philippines is the world’s third worst plastic polluer of the world’s oceans after China and Indonesia. We are among the foremost consumers of food, medicine, and other products marketed in plastic sachets, bottles, and bags. Three US companies were named as the world’s foremost producers of these common consumer products sold in cheap disposable plastics.
A multi-sectoral coalition has now been organized by several top corporations involved in the production and distribution of consumer goods – the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability (PARMS) – dedicated to finding ways to meet the growing problem of plastic pollution.
It signed early this month an agreement with the Paranaque City government for the installation of a plastic waste recycling and research and development center in barangay La Huerta. Sen. Cynhia Villar, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, witnessed the signing ceremony and lauded the initiative taken by the city government and the private companies which had formed the coalition.
The senator is pushing for the concept of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), an environmental protection strategy now being practiced in European countries requiring manufacturers using plastic materials in their packaging to be responsible for recovering the plastic waste they caused, through such means as reuse, buy-back, and recycling.
The Villar Social Institute for Poverty Alleviation and Governance already has a factory in Las Pinas producing armchairs made from such wastes as food wrappers. Twenty kilos of such such “soft plastics” can be processed to produce one chair. The chairs thus produced are being donated to public schools in the country.
India and several other countries have come up with ways to use waste plastic mixed with bitumen for road construction. Australia, Indonesia, the United Kingdom, and the US are among the countries now developing technology to incorporate plastic waste into asphalt mix.
Plastic pollution has long been a problem worldwide because plastic does not decompose. Wood, paper, and other materials dumped into landfills will disintegrate in time, but not plastic. The volume of waste plastic will keep mounting until there is no more space in landfills. A great deal of it ends in the sea where it is consumed by sea animals which mistake it for food and it kills them eventually. One study found that bits of plastic had become embedded in the flesh of some fish, thus posing a danger to fish-eating humans .
We thus welcome increasing efforts to solve the problem of plastic wastes, such as those of the Philippine Alliance for Recycling and Materials Sustainability. Around the world, new ways are being found to process plastics so they can be used for new products such as chairs in Las Pinas and roads in India. Perhaps someday scientists will discover a way to make plastic biodegradable like wood and the other products of our natural world, but until then we must learn to recycle plastics to save our environment. .