Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ban importation of plastic bags

I AGREE completely with the recommendation of the EcoWaste Coalition
to ban the use of non-biogradable plastic bags. I would include in the
ban the styrofoam containers and plastic spoons and forks used by
fast-food outlets and restaurants. These are very cheap, convenient
and practical for many uses, but they do not decompose and clog
canals, sewers, esteros, rivers and other waterways, and cause floods.
Also, they stay in the landfills for thousands of years so that we
would soon run out of space to throw our garbage into.

There is now floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a garbage
patch the size of Texas. This patch is composed of plastic bags,
styrofoam containers, rubber tires and other non-biodegradable
materials. The patch gets bigger and bigger every year as more and
more debris from land are carried by the ocean currents to this giant

If you go from Manila to Corregidor or Bataan by boat, you will pass
in Manila Bay a patch of floating plastics. They were either taken
there by the currents from the esteros and rivers of Metro Manila or
dumped there by garbage contractors hired by local governments to get
rid of their waste.

Another environmental group has urged the government to ban the use of
plastic bags by supermarkets and of styrofoam containers and plastic
cutlery by fast-food outlets. But as long as we import plastic bags
and allow petrochemical companies to manufacture them, I do not think
we can successfully prohibit their use because they are convenient,
practical and cheap. Convenient, too, for homeowners who use them to
put kitchen waste in before throwing them away.

The trick is to ban the entry into the country of plastic bags as well
as their manufacture here. Let’s promote the use of reusable cloth
bags by having art work or beautiful pictures printed on them. In the
US, paper shopping bags of department stores have famous paintings
printed on them and are collected by homeowners. I am not saying that
we should use paper bags because that may mean cutting down more trees
to be processed into paper, although bags can be made out of recycled
waste paper. Before the era of plastic bags, housewives went to market
with reusable rattan baskets or bayong in which to put their market
purchases. They have been immortalized in the pastoral paintings of
National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, but they have now been made
obsolete by the plastic bags.

Also, there are now bags, as good and durable and water resistant as
plastic bags but made out of biodegradable materials such as corn
stalk. They look like plastic but decompose just like any other
organic material. We should use them instead of the
petrochemical-based plastic bags.

The plastic bags we now use are a waste product of the petrochemical
industry. They are a by-product of refining crude oil into gasoline,
other fuels and lubricants. The oil companies have to do something to
them so as not to waste them. But they can be used for other things
instead of for making plastic bags and styrofoam containers.

Supermarkets and wet markets are the top dispensers of plastic bags
and fast-food restaurants are the top users of styrofoam eating
utensils. It is a reflex action of clerks and bag boys to put grocery
purchases in plastic bags even if the shopper has brought her own
cloth shopping bag. Security guards look at shoppers with suspicion if
their purchases are not in plastic shopping bags. I have been accosted
by supermarket and drugstore guards for carrying my few purchases in
my hands instead of in plastic bags. I had to show them the receipts
before they allowed me to leave. I think the first we have to convince
to refrain from the use of plastic bags are the store owners. And I
think environmental groups should talk to the supermarket and
fast-food associations instead of just issuing press releases.

Also, they should propagate the use of more durable alternatives to
plastic bags, such as attractive reusable paper bags, rattan and
bamboo baskets, bayong and cloth bags. The Department of Science and
Technology should pioneer the manufacture of biodegradable bags made
out of corn and sugarcane stalks, cogon, talahib and rice stalks.

* * *

We will have another barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections very
soon, and I think that besides telling the people to choose well the
officials they should vote for, it is timely for incumbent barangay
officials to explain to their constituents what they have done during
their terms, especially with the barangay funds. For example,
squatters of San Roque in Barangay Bagong Pag-asa, Quezon City, were
forcibly evicted from their homes when it was declared by the city
council as part of the central business district. The National Housing
Authority and Ayala Corp. gave P50 million to the barangay captain to
distribute to the squatters to be relocated to Montalban, Rizal.

Barangay Resolution No. 024, series of 2009, authorizing the
relocation said: “Barangay Bagong Pag-asa is hereby giving permission
to National Housing Authority to force eviction and relocate the
informal settlers of San Roque, Bagong Pag-asa with a financial
assistance to every family in the sum of P50,000 aside from the house
and lot due to them.”

The barangay captain was given the authority to distribute the
financial assistance to the affected families. But instead of P50,000,
each family was given only P1,000. What happened to the P49,000?

Some of the evicted squatters complained to City Hall and they were
given P4,000 more. That still leaves P45,000 unaccounted for. What’s
going on here?


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