On World Oceans Day, group calls for better implementation of policies addressing plastic pollution

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On World Oceans Day, group calls for better implementation of policies addressing plastic pollution
Masks and plastic waste wash up on the shore of so-called Baseco Beach in Manila.
Philstar.com / EC Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — A non-governmental organization on Tuesday called on government agencies to ensure the implementation of environmental laws to help address the garbage problem that is choking the country’s seas.

Plastic pollution is a major problem in the Philippines. The archipelagic nation was frequently listed among the top contributors to marine plastic pollution along with China, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Environmental lawyer Gloria Estenzo-Ramos said the Philippines has a strong law addressing the garbage problem: Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.

The law mandates the segregation of solid waste at source and directs local governments to divert at least 25% of all solid waste disposal activities through re-use, recycling and composting activities. Another salient point of the law is the creation of a list of non-environmentally acceptable products (NEAP).

The law was passed in 2000 but it was only in February, after two decades, that the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) included plastic soft drink straws and coffee stirrers in the list of NEAP. The resolution, however, has yet to be fully signed.

“RA 9003 is one of the best laws ever, but it’s just so unfortunate that our government feels that they have the luxury of time to decide when to implement them,” Ramos, who also serves as the vice president of Oceana Philippines, said in a forum held on World Oceans Day.

“We hope the judicial, legislative, and especially executive departments will already do their mandates. We have the laws but the political will to ensure the implementation of our laws that is sadly lacking,” she added.

Early this month, House Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda filed a resolution seeking to investigate and audit the NSWMC for the “massive” delay in the implementation of the NEAP.

Endangering human health

The struggle of the Philippines in addressing plastic pollution in its waters is also endangering the country’s rich marine life and compromising human health.

According to a report of the International Pollutants Elimination Network released in April, pollutants such as industrial chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, plastics and microplastics have “deleterious impacts” to aquatic ecosystems from plankton to whales.

“Our health as human beings is very much dependent on healthy marine environment,” said Ramon San Pascual, executive director of Health Care Without Harm Southeast Asia.

Pandemic-era rise of plastic products

In a taped address aired Monday, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern on the increase of plastic waste as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 crisis.

“The popularity of delivery of services has produced considerable solid waste such as the delivery of both food and non-food products. Also, a serious concern is the proper disposal of medical waste,” he said.

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources showed the country generated more than 52,000 metric tons of medical waste from April 2020 to March 31, 2021. The figure was based on the special or online permits to transport issued by the department.

Waste audits conducted by HCWH in five Metro Manila hospitals during the pandemic found the bulk of plastic waste generated there was non-essential. Non-essential plastics refer to those used in activities not directly related to patient care, such as food containers, bottles of water, plastic food wares and plastic utensils.

The organization urged healthcare institutions to prioritize shifting to reusable items, and determine and utilize sustainable alternatives for single-use plastic products.

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