Plastic waste-free Cebu
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - June 25, 2019 - 12:00am

A mound of plastic trash choked the drainage system along the Mahiga Creek in Mandaue City last Sunday and caused ankle-deep flooding along the national highway in Subangdaku. My social media news feed showed photos of empty plastic bottles and other trash stuck on top of each other at the underside of the Subangdaku Bridge.

In Talisay City over a week ago, a downpour caused heavy flooding in Barangay Bulacao. It was blamed on plastic wastes and silt clogging up the drainage lines. This prompted mayor-elect Samsam Gullas to call on residents to help prevent flooding in the city by not throwing their plastic trash anywhere.

Over a year ago when the Cebu City government started banning single-use plastics in City Hall, Mayor Tomas Osmeña explained that the city will ban the use of plastics in stages in order to allow the people to adjust and the government to watch for any unintended consequences.

Admittedly, it is hard to get rid of plastics altogether in our everyday lives. Use of plastics is still the cheapest and most convenient way of storing consumer items. One would squirm at the thought of millions of trees cut and the energy used to produce those alternative brown paper bags for packaging in some grocery stores in the city. Then try also holding those paper bags carefully with both hands so that it will not rip under the weight of grocery items.

Talking of convenience, it was no better when I was in Taiwan a month ago where I bought some items at a 7-Eleven store. I didn’t know that convenience stores there have shunned any form of packing customers’ purchases either with plastic or paper bag. I ended up juggling with literally a handful of small items close to my chest. Later I was told I could request a plastic bag but for a good fee.

These things show a growing awareness of how human use of plastics is harming the environment and, ultimately, us humans when plastic trash choke the drainage or, in microform, enter our bodies through the food and water we take.

I am not aware of studies done in Cebu or anywhere in the country, but in the city of Can Tho in Vietnam, one study showed that plastic packaging and plastic containers compose 96% of plastic waste, with plastic shopping bags taking almost half the pie. We might have a similar situation here in Cebu, so it’s just right that we focus our attention on single-use plastic packaging, especially shopping bags.

Both a short and long-term solution is to change consumers’ perception of the cost-benefit of plastics, making them realize that the convenience of single-use plastics comes at a higher cost to the environment and to the well-being of the community. We should discourage the use of single-use plastics, especially plastic shopping bags and plastic bottles. Strict enforcement of solid waste management laws is another solution but is often impractical under the weight of a whole community of violators.

If we are really still drawn to the cheap convenience that single-use plastics offer, then the long-term solution is technological – look for ways to replace petroleum-derived plastics with equally cheap biodegradable plastics, like starch-based bioplastic and seaweed-based plastics.

But that might take a very long time, so now I choose to suffer the inconvenience of a minimum to zero plastic-free consumption practice. The challenge is to convince others to do the same, or at least, segregate and properly dispose of their plastic trash.

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