Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let us junk our 'throw away' culture

Last Sunday, Sept. 26, we sadly commemorated the first anniversary of
Ondoy, the worst typhoon to hit Metro Manila to date. It was a
Saturday if it’s any consolation, it would have been worse had it
happened on a weekday when more people (including schoolchildren)
would have been out of their homes going about their humdrum day.

The untold destruction (the loss of lives and property) Ondoy left in
its wake remains vivid in the memory. It will not soon be forgotten.

But to quote William Wordsworth, “We will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind.”

Sad to say, one thing that has remained behind, so say our waste and
climate advocates, is the Filipino consumers’ “throw away” culture,
which ought to be junked so we could restore Metro Manila’s (and the
country’s) ecological balance and health.

For starters, the EcoWaste Coalition, an anti-waste and pollution
watchdog, and allied groups are pushing for a concerted action to curb
crass consumerism as shown in the thoughtless use and disposal of
plastic bags and other single-use packaging materials.

Roy Alvarez, EcoWaste Coalition president, looks back (and forward):
“Typhoon Ondoy taught us in a deeply painful and costly way that
practices which defile and destroy the ecosystems have no place in our
fragile planet and should stop.”

He woefull adds, “Our addiction to plastic bags and to everything that
is disposable has exacerbated the effects of the epic flood and made
the post-Ondoy cleanup most difficult.”

As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the
problem. And to partly solve the problem, Alvarez proposes, “By
switching from disposable plastic bags to reusable bags and
containers, we will dramatically cut our waste size, and clean out our
waterways and dumpsites, which are bursting at the seams.”

Indeed, there’s nothing fantastic about plastic. So instead of plastic
bags, for a clean and green planet, eco advocates recommend the use of
practical (down-to-earth), reusable alternatives to plastic bags, such
as bayong and other baskets made of biodegradable plant materials like
anahaw, bamboo, buri, coconut, isay, kalagimay, nipa, rattan, and
water lily. Mind you, they’re eco chic you wouldn’t really mind toting
them to the supermarket or palengke.

Or if you want to be different while making a difference in your own
little way, EcoWaste suggests you design and sew your own reusable bag
from used materials such as rice sacks, flour bags, old curtains, and
worn-out clothes.

Gigie Cruz of the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, a
member of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Plastic, enjoins
everyone, “In remembrance of all the people who perished in and
suffered from the onslaught of Ondoy, we appeal to all Filipinos
consumers and retailers alike to break the plastic habit and embrace
a plastic bag-free and zero waste lifestyle.”

She adds, “We further ask the authorities to act now on our petition
to forbid single-use plastic bags and not wait for the next Ondoy to
strike.”

In June last year, over 100 groups and individuals signed a petition
asking the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and
the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC) to declare a
unilateral phase-out of “thin film single-use plastic bags to stop the
plastic invasion of the environment.”

Initiated by the EcoWaste Coalition, the petition followed the plea by
Dr. Achim Steiner, executive director of United Nations Environment
Programme, to phase out or ban “thin film single-use plastic bags
which choke marine life.”

Not using plastic bags won’t be that easy in fact, though consumers
are encouraged to use their green or eco bags, supermarkets still use
plastic bags. When we shop, stores still give us plastic bags except
perhaps for a few like Tickles, that popular chain of fun stores,
that’s got its own sleek sack with the clown design.

But something as simple as avoiding the use of plastic bags, the
petitioners can’t stress enough, will have a direct and meaningful
environmental, climate, economic, and cultural benefits, such as:
protection of the coral reefs and all marine animals from plastic
litter; reduction in the release of greenhouse gases, persistent
organic pollutants (POPs), and other harmful chemicals associated with
the production, consumption, and disposal of plastic bags; and
reversal of the “plasticization” of our lifestyle with the increased
promotion and adoption of eco-friendly and non-toxic choices.

Here are the grim statistics: Plastic bags and other synthetic
packaging materials comprised 76 percent of the four cubic meters of
garbage retrieved from Manila Bay in 2006, according to a survey
jointly conducted by EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace volunteers. Out
of the 76 percent, 51 percent consisted of plastic carry bags; 19
percent, junk food wrappers and sachets; five percent, styrofoams; and
one percent, hard plastics. As for the rest of the recovered trash, 10
percent was rubber and 13 percent was biodegradable waste.

Meanwhile, major green networks, led by the Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
and EcoWaste Coalition, have thrown their support behind a growing
campaign to declare September 26 of every year as “Save Sierra Madre
Day.” The ATM has over 80 members nationwide while EcoWaste has over
100 members.

Fr. Pete Montallana has called attention to the urgency of protecting
the 1.5-million-hectare mountain range from widespread illegal logging
and other “developmental intrusions.”

The Aurora-based Franciscan priest asserts, “Forested mountains are
our best natural defenses against the twin scourges of ‘too much
water’ on one hand, and ‘too little water’ on the other. Ondoy and the
recent drought brought by El NiƱo could not have done their worst on
the island of Luzon if its once-majestic protector, the Sierra Madre,
had not been so degraded by unabated logging and other developmental
intrusions.”

Jaybee Garganera, ATM national coordinator, states that certain areas
should be declared as “no-go zones” for mining, such as Sierra Madre.

Rei Panaligan, EcoWaste coordinator notes with much concern, “Open
dumpsites, ‘sanitary’ landfills, and other waste disposal facilities
like used tire pyrolysis plants and cement kilns firing solid and
hazardous waste pose toxic threats to Sierra Madre and her capacity
to sustain life amid the climate crisis.”

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