Game changer: Phl largest city leads ban on single-use materials
GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2019 - 12:00am

Quezon City, the country’s most populous, will ban single-use materials from business establishments starting next year. To be totally removed from supermarkets, restaurants, and hotels, are one-time use plastic and paper bags, plates, bottles, cups, cutlery, straws, drink stirrers, sachets, and styrofoam packs. The materials are highly pollutive and pile up garbage.

QC is not the first city to forbid the earth-unfriendly items. But having a population of 2.94 million (2015 census) and the third widest expanse, it can be a game changer. QC’s success will spur the 135 other cities and 82 provinces to follow suit. The garbage crisis that the environment department recently declared will begin to be solved. The Philippines’ shameful ranking as the world’s third biggest polluter of oceans, next to China and Indonesia, can be corrected.

QC is landlocked. But sitting on a vast plateau from which rivers flow down, it contributes to trash draining to Manila Bay and Laguna de Bai. Water is life. Plastic and styro wastes clog up sewers and streams, cause deadly floods, and choke fish, corals and other marine life.

Environment groups hail QC’s expansive ban. “These are concrete steps taken by the city government to prevent plastic bags and single-use materials from entering the waste stream, thus lessening the possibility of these ever reaching bodies of water,” said Mayor Joy Belmonte. “It takes a concerted effort from all stakeholders to prevent this problem from escalating ... We hope you will continue to partner with the city government to advance our advocacies on climate change, sustainability, and environment care.”

The ban comes in two ordinances. Introduced by Councilor Dorothy Delarmente, both unanimously were approved by the 35 other council members:

Ordinance 2868, effective Jan. 1, 2020, shall prohibit distribution and use of plastic bags and single-use containers in malls, supermarkets, pharmacies, and other wet and dry retail outlets. Primary target is the notorious sheer “sando” bag. One year thereafter paper bags shall also be banned. It supersedes, as planned since 2012, QC’s withholding of plastic grocery bags unless the customer pays P2 “green fee”.

Ordinance 2876, effective Feb. 1, 2020, shall prohibit distribution and use of plastic, paper, and styro containers in restaurants, bars, hotels, resorts, and similar outlets. Covered are dine-in serving of throwaway plastic bottles, cups, plates, forks, spoons, knives, straws, and stirrers. As well, single-use sachets for drinks, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste in hotel rooms.

Fines and penalties for violations are stiff: P1,000 for the first offense; P3,000, suspension of Environmental Clearance, and issuance of Cease and Desist Order for the second; and P5,000, revocation of Business Permit, and issuance of Closure Order for the third. Those are in accord with the Local Government Code.

Given the huge number of businesses covered, the ban looks unenforceable. Yet Belmonte is optimistic. The city council held four consultations with affected outlet owners. Getting their consensus was crucial. Example was the first ordinance. After seven years of regulating plastic grocery bags, only few customers conscientiously brought their own reusable woven sacks, “bayong” or “katsa”. Green Fund collections reached P316 million. Belmonte, Delarmente and other councilors contemplated raising the green fee to P10 per bag. But storeowners themselves opted to do away with plastic bags altogether. They believe that caring for the earth requires lifestyle and habit changes.

Chain restaurateurs and hoteliers also see savings in the ban on throwaway plastics and sachets. It would be more economical to use washable utensils. Personal straws are in vogue among environment-conscious citizens. Bathroom products can be dispensed from containers screwed to walls. Note, however, that some manufacturers deliberately slash prices of “tingê” at corner stores so, say, a five-gram shampoo comes out much cheaper than buying 500 grams. Those makers are cheating the public. If exposed and boycotted, they’d learn lessons the hard way. The EcoWaste Coalition has “Kalabasa Awards” for such deceitful market items.

Conversely, identifying the good ones encourages others to follow. Interviewed on “Sapol” radio show last Sat., Belmonte cited, without personally endorsing, the distribution by Macao Imperial Milk Tea of reusable tumblers, yet keeping its prices at par with competitors. (I don’t drink milk tea nor know Macao brand.)

Gradual imposition of bans also assures compliance, Belmonte said. Businesses must be given time to prepare their alternatives. Ordinance 2868 was enacted mid-2019; Ordinance 2876, in early Oct. Store, eatery and resort managers were given ample adjustment periods.

Single-use materials are filling up QC landfills. Andrea Villaroman, director for Environmental Protection and Waste Management, reported that plastic bags make up 16 cubic meters or one truckload per day. Plastic cutlery adds another 10 cubic meters or a mini-dump truck daily. Business establishments, not residences, generate that trash.

About two-dozen Philippine cities and provinces have banned or regulated single-use packaging. Their local executives had studied the wasteful sourcing of plastic and styrene from coal, petroleum and gas. Pollutive production methods contribute to greenhouse gases, so worsen climate change, leading to draughts and super-typhoons. Aside from causing floods and killing marine and land food sources, the materials take centuries to biodegrade, if at all.

Among the first green locales are: Las Piñas, Muntinlupa, Pasay and Pasig in Metro Manila; Baguio City, Benguet; El Nido, Palawan; Boracay Isle, Malay, Aklan; City of San Fernando, Pampanga; San Fernando City, La Union; Bayambang, Villasis, Labrador, Rosales, San Carlos, Asingan, Binalonan, Laoac, Alcala, Umingan, Bautista, and Natividad in Pangasinan; Cebu City Hall; Bacolod City, Negros Occidental; government offices in Negros Oriental; Pilar in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte; and the pioneer of them all, Los Baños, Laguna.

Bills pend in both houses of Congress to ban single-use plastics nationwide.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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