Friday, October 22, 2010

A life-and-death issue

WITH THE nation remembering the first anniversary of the days when the
deadly and destructive storms “Ondoy” and “Pepeng” struck Metro Manila
and a great part of Luzon, now is a good time to remind ourselves of
the causes of the great flood. One of them was the unprecedented
volume of water that Ondoy brought: about six months’ worth of rain in
just 24 hours. But this was aggravated by other causes, like discarded
plastic bags clogging esteros, canals and other waterways.

Several legislators have filed measures to prohibit, regulate or
discourage the use of plastic bags or encourage their recycling and
reuse. Among them are Senators Loren Legarda, Miriam Defensor-Santiago
and Rep. Aurelio Gonzales Jr. All these measures should be
consolidated into one, into something like “An Act for Plastic
Pollution Prevention and Reduction” as suggested by Sonia Mendoza of
EcoWaste Coalition’s Task Force on Plastic.

Data from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show
that of the nearly 757,000 kilos of trash recovered from the country’s
shoreline and waterways, more than 622,000 kilos were composed of
plastic and rubber items. Plastic bags are non-renewable,
oil-consuming and non-biodegradable. A 2006 survey conducted by
EcoWaste Coalition and Greenpeace in 2006 showed that plastic bags and
other synthetics comprised 76 percent of the garbage retrieved from
Manila Bay.

Plastics are not only a major cause of flooding, especially in urban
areas. They pollute the earth and bodies of water. EcoWaste Coalition
said that plastic bags account for most of the litter that clog
waterways in the metropolis, making it difficult for floodwaters to
recede after a heavy rain.

Worldwide, an estimated 500 billion to one trillion plastic bags are
consumed every year, meaning that more than one million plastic bags
are used each minute. There is today a humongous island of garbage
that floats on the Pacific Ocean. It is called the Great Pacific
Garden Patch, except that instead of containing flowers and plants, it
is made up of plastic bags, food wrappers, sachets and other debris
that have floated from distant land-based sources.

Much of these plastics and other debris are eaten by fish and other
marine animals, often with lethal results. For instance, turtles
mistake plastic bags for jellyfish and swallow them. Plastic bags
don’t biodegrade—they photo-degrade and break down into smaller and
more toxic plastic particles to contaminate both water and soil. On an
earth where everything is connected, these chemicals enter the food
system and ultimately poison people.

Plastics, like diamonds, are forever. Plastic bags can last 1,000
years. But the difference is that while diamonds are a boon
(especially to the ladies), plastic bags are proven to be a bane to
the environment and the people. Realizing this, many people have
thought up ways of reducing the number of plastic bags in circulation.

Many people and organizations have gotten into the act and are
proposing ways to reduce plastic bag pollution. Some have designed the
Envirosax, SM’s eco-bag, a new bayong and other reusable containers
for shoppers. But what is needed is an intensive, comprehensive
campaign against the use of plastic bags involving all sectors of
society. The entire nation has to be made aware that plastic bags are
dangerous things, and that they are actually a life-and-death issue,
as Ondoy and Pepeng have shown us last year.

Several years ago, consumers in a department store in Europe
effectively protested plastic packaging by unpacking their purchases
in the store and leaving the plastic mess for the store to clean up.
This ultimately resulted in a countrywide plastic packaging reduction
and recycling effort as the stores were forced to pay for the disposal
of their packaging materials. A concerted effort like this by
consumers in several big malls and department stores in Metro Manila
should shock their owners to their senses.

Also, consumers should mount a massive campaign to prod President
Benigno Aquino III to certify a consolidated measure on plastic bags
and other polluting materials and get Congress to pass it as soon as
possible. Every year the problem is getting worse. It’s time all
sectors of society worked together to do something about it.


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