Poppin’ plastic
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - November 3, 2019 - 12:00am

It was after I visited an art exhibit in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, which featured plastic particles found inside the stomachs of birds and fish, that I started becoming more conscious of plastic consumption.

The animal carcasses were laid out theatrically, glassy eyes unblinking, and fish skin or feathered tresses wonderfully preserved. But bursting out from their bellies were mangy, filthy strips of small plastic, ingested by the poor creatures as they went along their innocent ways in a world they share with humankind. (Too schmaltzy?)

Just the thought of how we humans, in our drive to deliver convenience and hygiene, have managed to unsuspectingly injure other species and our ecosystem, was disheartening. Here we go again, humankind, unthinkingly inflicting damage.

So that heightened consciousness has contributed to personal recycling efforts, not very scientific or systematic to be sure, but it serves as a minor consolation of sorts. Bringing a recyclable bag, refusing plastic shopping bags, and setting aside pretty bottles for possible redecoration efforts were on an evolving to-do list.

But this consciousness, of course, led to redoubled critical thinking of how other organizations or companies were contributing (or not) to saving the earth. Any company with products packaged in plastic sachets were immediately put on an evildoer's list. Imagine, all the shampoos and toothpaste that are being sold in sari-sari stores, sponsored by multinational conglomerates with no responsibility for cleaning up the mess?

A study cited by Reuters says that every day, we Filipinos consume 163 million sachets, or billions a year. Coffee, detergent, and other essentials are distributed in cheap plastic, made affordable and accessible to ordinary Filipinos. Because there are millions of impoverished Filipinos, sachets are the only means by which they can procure basic necessities.

What to do about this conundrum? Should we exact the true cost of plastic from consumers or manufacturers, by adding on to its retail price all the hidden costs of having to dispose of it? Should we focus on finding alternative ways of delivering consumer products to the public other than plastic, including via sachets, such as by group purchases or alternative distribution methods? Or should we focus on information drives that steer consumers away from plastic use?

Just this week, I overheard a radio ad about how a popular vitamin/energy tablet, which health-conscious Asians dissolve in water to get a fizzy orange drink, and which normally gets sold in ten-pill packs, would now be available in the market to be purchased as single pills. Oh no. More plastic, more packaging. Is the drug company that manufactures this daily overdose of vitamins even thinking about the impact on the environment?

Even medicine, which we acknowledge to be crucial to health, are packaged in blister packs of plastic or aluminum. Patients pop the pill, then throw the tiny thing away. But where does that container really go for the next ten thousand years?

By the way, we take precautions with our drinking water by lugging bottled water along. The new scare are the microplastics that are likewise bottled in with that hygienic mineralized designer water that we're flashing around. Those microplastics get embedded in our innards. Who really knows what effect these have on our health?

Plastic is the new nightmare. We're just starting to struggle with its implications. Here's hoping that necessity, that wonderful mother of all things inventive, strikes again and unleashes a whole slew of curative measures that will allow us to get out of this rapidly mounting garbage heap of polymers. Otherwise (insert personal schmaltzy doomsday scenario).

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