Science and Environment

Time for sustainable production, consumption


The global wave of responsible consumption, heightened by the pandemic experience that has radically changed our way of life, has already reached Filipino consciousness. More Pinoy consumers are becoming conscious about their personal carbon footprints, and are very meticulous with purchases to ensure that the products they use are not environmentally harmful. In 2015, the Philippines was cited to be the third largest contributor to ocean plastic, with a yearly average of 0.75 million metric tons of plastic waste ending up in oceans and waterways. Multiple studies in the country also point to waste from plastic packaging as an overwhelming contributor to both carbon emissions and actual plastic waste, with recyclables making up 30% of waste in the Philippines. These conditions strengthen the need for across-the-industry collaborative efforts to improve our environmental situation and ecological consciousness. 

To trail-blaze industry reform is a strong backbone of legislation through the EPR. Republic Act 11898, or the Extended Producer Responsibility Act (EPR), focuses on waste reduction, recovery and recycling. Under the law, producers that use plastic packaging have the full responsibility throughout the life cycle of their products. The law draws recovery and reduction strategies for Obliged Enterprises, which include the development of environmentally friendly products, as well as public initiatives that advocate sustainable consumption. As a national goal, the law recognizes the critical role that producers play in the conservation process, by setting incremental industry targets that must be met yearly until 2030. The EPR mandates Obliged Enterprises to have a 20% recovery rate by the end of 2023, with a target of up to 80% by the end of 2028. 

The EPR covers plastic packaging, which many companies use to protect or pack their goods to ensure the longevity and durability of their products in the distribution process. If the environment is to be protected, economic players must come together to commit to better practices in product development and production. The industry responded to the call with renewed enthusiasm, with many companies reorganizing their environmental sustainability targets and efforts. As an industry that deals with plastic products and waste in different points of production, one reduction strategy that has immediate impacts is redesigning the packaging by removing pigments and shifting to colorless plastics. This move increases the available feedstock and value of Post-Consumer Recycled materials (PCR), which strengthens the circular economy in the country. 

Clear plastics have historically been preferred in the recycled materials market, as they can be dyed with greater flexibility. Colored plastics, on their own, do not have the same workability as they only become a shade darker than the original dye. These materials usually drive recycling facilities to dispose of them without renewed use, as the chance of dealing with contaminants is greater in using colored bottle caps. Shifting to clear plastic allows for it to become a highly valued recyclable material, environmentally friendlier, and become a significantly safer product to use. This move also empowers other stakeholders, as PET has a high residual value, making it the most in-demand plastic waste among the categories especially for those engaged in the informal waste economy. 

An example of change leaders in the industry is Philippine Spring Water Resources, Inc. (PSWRI), the company behind the country’s leading bottled water brand: Nature’s Spring. Since April 2023, the company has implemented a “colorless cap” shift across its complete product spectrum, including Nature’s Spring Purified Drinking Water, Nature’s Spring Distilled Drinking Water, and Nature’s Spring ph9 Drinking Water. Focusing on the “reduction” facet of the company’s Sustainability Agenda, this change innovation strategy reflects the commitment toward increasing its plastic packaging’s reusability, recyclability and retrievability.

Many who remember the birth of Nature’s Spring as an empathic response to a devastating calamity brought by Super Typhoon Ruping in the 1990s would see the move as a principled extension of that period. With one of the Philippines’ largest producers of bottled drinking water taking on greater responsibilities towards its products and waste, more companies are following and helping the country to achieve its goal of rolling back on its carbon footprint. 

Truly, necessity is the mother of invention. But social responsibility and unparalleled commitment to the greater development goals of the country are what create a culture of action.

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