Channeling Greta
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph T. Gonzales (The Freeman) - December 15, 2019 - 12:00am

It’s a good sign that the companies responsible for producing packaging that eventually ends up as litter are now trying to address the environmental damage from so much plastic. But that should just be the tip of the iceberg. (Or, given global warming, we should be demanding for half the berg already).

Coca-Cola Philippines aims “to collect and recycle every bottle sold by the year 2030.” Well and good. But, being the persnickety person that I am, I want to quiz whether that really means, by the year 2030, Coke would recycle all the bottles it has ever sold throughout the years it has been in existence, and all over the world where it has presence.

What a wonderful thought, if that’s really the goal. But is it really? Or, does Coca-Cola just mean all the bottles ever sold in the Philippines? Or just all the bottles it will sell just by that year 2030, never mind its previous sales for the past decades?

Some more sleuthing by hard-boiled journalists needs to be done. (Add to the list of things to be done upon retirement).

Unilever Philippines, on the other hand, responsible for marketing and selling a gazillion shampoo sachets, reportedly pledged to fight plastic waste. Its chairman was quoted saying they will “collect and process more than it sells, and halve use of virgin plastic”.

Again, hopeful and upbeat promises of addressing the environment. But it would be nice to have hard targets. Parsing Unilever’s statement, it still means to a suspicious brain (mine) that they fully intends to still use virgin plastic - and we are all warned, it would be 50% of its requirements.

But who knows whether that requirement (let’s say for the sake of example, 50 tons) might be even be bigger than the 100% of what it’s currently utilizing now. To make this point even clearer, let’s say Unilever is using 25 tons now. It doesn’t mean that in the future, it will use only 12.5 tons. If its future requirements are going to be 50 tons, then it would still be using 25 tons of virgin plastic by that future date. Get the drift?

Unilever does commit “to produce 100% reusable, recyclable and compostable packaging by 2025.” The hopeful innocent in me wants this to mean that each piece of packaging is “reusable, recyclable and compostable.” But the suspicious might think, well, well, well. It’s possible that 30% of the sachets produced would be reusable, another 30% would be recyclable, and only 40% would be compostable. Exactly which commitment was made?

It would be spectacular if these waste-producing companies end up saving the planet compared to their impact on it. Yes, it’s laudable that they have social consciences and are embarking on these initiatives to mitigate such impact. But let’s be clear: Greta Thunberg, newly named Time Person of the Year, might still not be pleased.

What would Greta want? Action now rather than later. Mobilization today, rather than graduated over time. A total stop to plastic generation and use, maybe. Complete collection and disposal of waste. Total recycling, even.

Postponing these to a much later time, to a distant future, where we may not be able to control the environmental impact, is a gamble. And that’s what these companies are taking. A gamble that the little they’re doing now will be sufficient in 2025 or 2030 or whatever future date when you and I, and these decision makers, will not be around.

Here’s hoping that their gamble will pan out. After all, it’s our future they’re gambling with.

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