Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Environmental advocates push for a strong law to put an end to plastic pollution

Advocates for a cleaner
and healthier environment today went to the Senate to ask the
lawmakers to enact a robust law to bring the reckless use and disposal
of plastic bags under control.

To draw the Senators’ attention, members of the EcoWaste Coalition put
a dancing “plastic monster” made of used grocery bags at the Senate
gate to greet and remind legislators of the need to “tame the plastic

The event coincided with the joint hearing called by the Senate
Committee on Trade and Commerce, chaired by Sen. Manny Villar, and the
Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, chaired by Sen. Juan
Miguel Zubiri, to discuss bills filed by Senators Loren Legarda,
Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Manny Villar on plastic bags.

“We have come here today to tell the Senators of the urgency of
enacting a robust law to tame the plastic monster that is wreaking
havoc on our fragile ecosystems,” declared Sonia Mendoza of the
EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Plastics.

Senators Legarda, Santiago and Villar, suggested Mendoza, should
consolidate their legislative bills into a more encompassing “Magna
Carta of Plastic Use Reduction” that will progressively cut the use of
plastic bags, with time-specific target for phase out and eventual
ban, and assertively promote ecological alternatives.

“We hope that our lawmakers will prioritize such a critical
environmental legislation and ensure its approval during the 15th
Congress for the sake of Mother Earth. It will surely help if P-Noy
will certify the bill as priority legislative measure,” added Gigie
Cruz, another member of the Task Force on Plastics, who noted the
failure of past Congresses to adopt essential regulations on plastics.

A text survey conducted by the EcoWaste Coalition among its partner
groups revealed a range of proposals on what an effective law should
stipulate to effectively prevent and reduce waste and pollution from
plastic bags.

Among those who responded were the Global Alliance for Incinerator
Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia, Kinaiyahan Foundation, Miss
Earth Foundation, Mother Earth Foundation and the Philippine Earth
Justice Center.

Some of the top proposals that the groups would like to see in the
plastic law are as follows:

1. Ban the practice of giving free plastic bags to consumers in all
commercial establishments.

2. Impose plastic bag environmental tax or levy.

3. Prohibit the use of plastic bags (i.e., thin film single-use
plastic bags) as “banderitas”.

4. Phase out and eventually ban plastic sando bags.

5. Bar the importation of plastic bags and other single-use
disposables such as polystyrene food and beverage containers.

6. Require commercial establishments to offer reusable alternatives
to plastic bags.

7. Direct supermarkets and other retail and wholesale shops to allow
their customers to bring and use “bayong” and other substitute
containers for goods purchased.

8. Stipulate producer responsibility and accountability, including a
mandatory take back for used bags.

9. Put up livelihood programs in the countryside to support the
production of bayong and other reusable bags from native materials.

10. Provide continuing public education on the health, environmental
and climate impacts of plastic bags.

11.Observe and participate in the “International Plastic Bag Free Day”
every 3rd of July.

The push for a robust legislation on plastic bags, the groups said, is
totally justified given the widespread contamination of the
environment from the unabated production, use and disposal of plastic

According to the groups, plastic bags end up mostly in the seas and
dumpsites where they take a long period of time to break into
miniscule bits of toxic chemicals, polluting the soil and water as
well as the food chain when animals mistake them for food.

As explained by Sen. Villar in Senate Bill 1103, “plastics are
essentially non-biodegradable, take more than 100 years to dissolve,
pollute the air and water and damage natural habitat.”

Citing information from the UN report “ Marine Litter – trash that
kills,” the EcoWaste Coalition said that plastics comprise 90% of
floating marine debris worldwide. In the Philippines, a plastic
discards survey organized by the EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace in
2006 showed that 76% of garbage found drifting in the historic Manila
Bay were plastic materials, 51% of which were plastic bags.

Sen. Santiago in her explanatory note for Senate Bill 1543 said that
“somewhere between 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags are consumed
worldwide each year and millions end up in the litter stream outside
of landfills.”

In introducing Senate Bill 1368, Senate Legarda said that “in all
instances plastic bags are easily moved from place to place, clogging
drainages in streets, polluting waterways and even endangering fish
and ecosystems,” adding that “the production of these bags requires
considerable amounts of crude oil and natural gas.”


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