Banning one-use plastic bags
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - December 12, 2019 - 12:00am

The time has come to give up using one-use plastic bags. Housewives and market vendors are the most reluctant of species to say goodbye to the utility bags. They wrap seafoods, meat products and vegetables with plastic – for what should they use to keep the fish liquid from dripping from a paper bag?  And how to store perishables in the freezer? And what to do with the used plastic wrapper except to throw it in the garbage can?

The demand is to stop using one-use plastic bags which contribute a great deal to the garbage crisis worldwide. Pictures of garbage dumps show the bags along with piles and piles of plastic bottles, cups, glasses and eating utensils. 

The clean-up drives in Boracay and parts of Manila Bay have made the areas cleaner. But most everywhere in the metropolis, plastics clog the esteros and decorate the front yards and walks particularly in squatter areas.   

Clearly, as Environment Secretary Cimatu has been quoted regarding the garbage problem, the throwaway habit is “a culture and behavior problem. Because despite our warning to them (residents) to not throw anything, the garbage is there again.”  What is crucial in the cleaning up of the environment is “political will,” he said. 

Already, 60 countries have taken the issue seriously, imposing taxes and penalties on people using one-use plastic.  In the United States, a number of cities, including San Francisco and Seattle have banned single-use plastic. Washington DC and Boston impose taxes on plastic bags.

A Business Today report relates that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government is aiming to limit the consumption of the commodity and eventually eliminate it by 2022. The initiative to crack down on plastic was launched on the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.

Other countries banning plastic bags are Kenya, which completely banned their use in 2017 and violators face imprisonment or a fine of $40,000.  Another African country, Rwanda, has a complete ban on plastic, and authorities search vehicles at border posts for any plastic bag or packaging. Zimbabwe also has a ban on styrofoam containers, and fine violators $5,000. In 2016, France banned plastic cups, plates and utensils as well. According to an Internet report, the Justin Trudeau-led government is trying to take necessary measures to reduce plastic pollution in Canada, including bottles, bags and straws as early as 2021. In Montreal, Canadian authorities  fine violators $1,000.  Taiwan and  South Korea have also banned the use of plastic bags in major supermarkets, and fine violators $2,700. 

President Rodrigo Duterte, according to a report, is considering banning the use of plastics, although this would require legislative action. An archipelago  of more than 7,100 islands, the Philippines has been identified as the third-worst ocean plastic polluter in the world after China and Indonesia, accounting for 5.9 percent of  total plastic in the world’s seas, according to a global 2015 study.

A 2017 report by the environment group Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, showed  that Filipinos use more than 163 million plastic sachets, 48 million shopping bags and 45 million thin-film bags daily.

The national single-use plastic ban bill should include drastic reduction of the manufacture of single-use plastic products and packaging, and their eventual elimination from the market, said the report.

Environmental watchdog Greenpeace welcomed Duterte’s considering a national ban on plastic use. Abigail Aguilar, regional campaign coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said “the scourge of single-use plastics is to avoid its manufacture.  The ban should include the phaseout of sachet packaging, direct companies to redesign products and packaging, and given incentives to reuse, refill and other alternative delivery systems. It should not include false solutions such as materials substitution to paper or bioplastics, light weighting of packaging, and chemical recycling.

Thankfully, some places in the Philippines are already banning single-use plastic. In Palawan, El Nido’s local government passed a no plastic ordinance on Dec. 8, 2017. It is reported to be stricter on boat tours where passengers are prohibited to bring all kinds of plastics like water bottles and styrofoam containers.

Wikimedia reports that according to the Philippine Plastic Industry Association, the  University of the Philippines-Los Baños has been  plastic-free already for a  decade. On June 2, 2008, the town’s Sangguniang Bayan prohibited  the use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers as packaging materials for dry and wet goods.

Wikimedia reports that a memorandum signed by Mayor Tomas Osmeña has made  Cebu City Hall plastic-free. Employees and concessionaires within the government office are not allowed to use plastic bags, straws, cups, plates, utensils and Styrofoam containers.

In Talisay, Negros Occidental, an ordinance approved by Mayor Evelio Leonardia has banned the use of plastic and sando bags as packaging material since 2011.

The  Sustainable Palengke campaign in San Fernando, La Union, resulted in the implementation of City Ordinance No. 2014-0 which penalizes anyone who uses extra plastic when bagging wet goods in public markets. This development was made possible through the efforts of local environmental groups La Union Soul and The Plastic Solution.

Other places where single-use plastic use is banned are Negros Oriental, through Gov.  Roel Degamo’s issuing of an executive order; Baguio City which bans  sando bags after the Plastic  and Styrofoam-free Baguio City ordinance which also prohibits business establishments from providing plastic containers for both dine-in and take-out food and drinks.

The province of Pangasinan has a number of towns that are already regulating the use of the undesired containers. They include Rosales, Labrador, San Carlos, Bayambang, Villasis, Asingan, Binalonan, Laoac, Alcala, Umingan, Bautista and Natividad.

Again, from Wikimedia, Pilar, a town on Siargao Island known for the Magpupungko Rock Formations, was the first municipality in the entire Surigao del Norte to enforce a ban on single-use  plastic. 

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So, in lieu of one-use plastic bags, what can one use in purchasing goods?   Suggested are bags made of jute, denim, EnviGreen s (look-alikes of plastic bags), and canvas bags. These are washable and can be used many times. For “sapin” inside bags containing wet goods, one can use folded old newspapers. The shift away from one-use bags  means some sacrificing on the part of  consumers and sellers, but in the long wrong, it will spell saving our environment.

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