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Business

Choking in plastics

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Roxas Boulevard, that famed waterfront promenade in Metro Manila, is many things to many people a boulevard of dreams new, old, and broken dreams; for lovers, it’s a place to make promises of forever with the pledges of love often backlighted by the setting crimson sun. For those who want to avert a nervous breakdown, it’s a slice of paradise, fake as the dolomite beach may be.

But somewhere in the southern tip of the boulevard, a place filled with mangroves has become a catch basin of sorts for plastic waste. The place is literally choking in plastics, and piles and piles of rubbish – from empty water bottles, slippers, plastics of varied shapes and sizes, sachets of soap, shampoos, cigarette butts, candy wrappers, used condoms and a whole lot of sleaze.

A few weeks ago, I travelled across five cities to see the opposite ends of the Pasig River and in many parts of it, I also saw heaps and heaps of plastic filth.

I am sure there are many unseen parts of the country teeming with plastic waste, the strongest indicator that we are seeing unprecedented volumes of mostly plastic garbage accumulating all around us. No, I am not imagining things – all my senses tell me that plastic filth is as real as it can get.

This must stop and not because they’re eyesores, but because they’re killing our rivers, the fish that we eat, our bodies, our homes, our planet, too.

I can go on and on.

Solving the plastic problem

How then do we solve the problem of plastic waste? For sure, it’s not going to happen overnight.

It’s a deep-seated problem that all sectors of society must commit to face and address. Big business, government and individual households must all work together to address the intensifying effects of the plastic crisis.

Waste segregation and recycling are some of the solutions, but companies such as those in the fast moving consumer sector must take urgent action to reduce their use of plastic.

Single-use plastic and the bread industry

The phaseout of all single-use plastic packaging and products is likewise a positive move. The House of Representatives has already passed the measure seeking to halt the use of single-use plastics.

However, as I said, this won’t happen overnight. Some sectors, in fact, are already lobbying now for a just transition period.

The bread industry, for instance, said the measure will easily increase the price of bread in the country as the cost of production goes up.

Why? This is because the industry uses plastic to pack the bread. Packaging would have to be thicker to make it reusable and comply with the measure.

“This will not benefit consumers at all because whether the polybag is 25 microns or 50 microns, it serves the same purpose of protecting the bread from the elements. Micron, equivalent to one thousandth of a millimeter, measures the thickness of plastics,” the group said.

Making the plastic thicker will not make it more re-usable as the bag is long and narrow, the group said.

A thicker plastic will also translate to higher cost of production as the current packaging system needs to be upgraded, retooled, redesigned for us to seal and lock using a thicker plastic. It will entail consuming more electricity and more manpower to package bread using thicker plastics. This would easily add at least P1.50 per loaf of bread or a pack of pan de sal, it added.

Other companies

The bread industry is just one and it has valid reasons for seeking a just transition period.

Overall, however, other giant companies – especially multinational firms, must take full responsibility for their use of plastic in packages. They must show full transparency about their plastic footprint and move toward a business where their use of plastic is significantly reduced.

E-commerce giants – or our favorite sources of budol fun – which wrap our orders in layers and layers of unnecessary plastic, must end this packaging method. Besides, it’s really difficult to open these items and it really takes away the budol fun.

Seriously though, the e-commerce business has so much room to reduce plastic waste. It must be more responsible considering that the usage of e-commerce doubled during the pandemic.

Moving forward, big business including e-commerce giants must invest in sustainable solutions.

Compostable plastics

There are also compostable and biodegradable plastics in the market now, says listed company D&L Industries, developer of proprietary lines of plastic materials and additives that can make plastic compostable and biodegradable.

As the ongoing Climate Change Conference in Glasgow comes to an end, it’s important to remind ourselves that individually, we can also do our part in helping the environment.

At the household level, there’s a lot we can do to reduce our plastic waste, from shifting to sustainable alternatives to really committing to reduce our waste.

Let’s be part of the solution, not part of the pollution. That sounds like a cliche but seriously, it’s not.

 

 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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