Thursday, September 30, 2010

Human Face ‘Major, major’: Death by plastic

LIFE OR death, paper or plastic? Plastic plague, plastic horror,
plastic scourge, plastic problem, plastic nightmare, plastic monster.
The bad words connected with plastic are so numerous and the havoc it
creates in our lives are so “major, major” so why do we still find
ourselves asking one another why plastic continues to rule our lives?
(Thank you, former Miss Earth Eco-Tourism, 2010 Miss Philippines and
Miss Universe runner-up Venus Raj for your unforgettable “major,

There is even a saying that goes, “Plastic, like diamonds, are
forever.” But the saying stops there as, unlike diamonds, they are not
a girl’s or the earth’s best friend.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, we are constantly touching
or holding something plastic. Just look around you now. How many
things can you see that are made of plastic? The arm of the computer
chair on which my arms rest as I write this piece is made of hard

And speaking of chairs and other furniture—and I must announce this
now to shame those concerned—there is a chunk of a sofa with plastic
upholstery that has been dumped into an open manhole along Mauban
Street in Quezon City. It’s been there for several weeks and I was
told that that piece of furniture was placed there to prevent students
from a nearby school from falling into the hole. Oh, what
thoughtfulness indeed on the part of the barangay officials. Because
of their creativity, they should be delivered to the likes of
hostage-taker Rolando Mendoza.

Plastic has become a major part of lives. It has many great and
practical uses. It can take the place of expensive and
need-to-conserve materials, such as wood and metal. Plastic can both
be a blessing and a scourge.

But the plastic thing we could all do without or have less and less of
are plastic bags.

The clamor of environmentalists all over the world to ban or limit the
use of plastic bags continues to be aired but despite decades of
campaigning, they are still the “major, major” things used for
carrying purchased goods.

On this first anniversary of the devastating typhoons “Ondoy” and
“Pepeng,” we remember with horror the unprecedented rampaging floods
that turned many parts of Luzon and Metro Manila into virtual oceans
and wreaked havoc on millions of lives. Mother Nature sent a message
to remind us of our long list of sins against her. One of them is our
garbage, and a huge bulk of this garbage that clogged the waterways
are plastic bags.

Last Monday, environmental, health and justice advocates trooped to
the Senate to press the lawmakers to pass a law to control the
reckless use and disposal of plastic bags and “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 Villar on plastic bags.

Legarda’s SB 1368 is “an act providing for a proactive approach in
recycling plastic bags in stores and other retail outlets.” Santiago’s
SB 1543 is “an act regulating the use of plastic grocery bags.”
Villar’s SB 1103 is “an act promoting sound waste management by
requiring all department stores, malls and commercial establishments
to utilize reusable environment-friendly shopping bags and provide
them free of charge to customers and patrons, and for other purposes.”
You can access these bills on the Internet.

Sonia Mendoza of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Plastic
suggested that Legarda, Santiago and Villar should consolidate their
bills into a more encompassing “Ondoy Act for Plastic Pollution
Prevention and 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.” Gigie Cruz,
also a member of Task Force on Plastics, noted the failure of the past
Congresses to adopt essential regulations on plastics.

EcoWaste recently sought out proposals regarding the plastics problem
from its partner groups. Proposals came from Buklod Tao, Global
Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, Greenpeace Southeast Asia,
Kinaiyahan Foundation, Miss Earth Foundation, Mother Earth Foundation,
Philippine Earth Justice Center and Zero Waste Philippines.

Here are the top 12 proposals that they want included in the plastics law.

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

2. Impose a plastic bag environmental tax or levy.

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

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 (native bags) and other
substitute containers for goods purchased.

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

9. Reinforce the prohibition against littering, dumping and burning of
plastic waste.

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

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

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


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