Monday, January 31, 2011

CITYWIDE PLASTIC BAN Muntinlupa takes giant step

Officials of Muntinlupa have taken a monumental step in protecting the environment by banning plastic bags and polystyrene in the city.

This is an encouraging boost that we in the environmental movement have been waiting for. In all our engagements with local government units, every time we present the adverse effects of plastic bags on health and the environment, the common knee-jerk response is that the initiative to ban plastic bags should come from the national government.

Relying on our national government may not be our best option because of the uncertainty of passing ecologically sound bills in our legislature.

Good precedent

Thus, the example set by Muntinlupa, among others, establishes a good precedent and a clear statement that, with political will, a ban is doable. (Los Baños in Laguna, Sta. Barbara in Iloilo, Burgos in Pangasinan and Odiongan in Romblon have also taken moves against the use of plastic bags.)

A positive national impact of the ban is that it opens up livelihood opportunities for producing baskets, bayong and other organic, reusable bags using katsa or available indigenous materials.

Both our urban and rural populations will benefit from this opportunity since raw materials are available where they are: discarded paper and cloth in the city; abaca, buri, and other plant fibers in provinces.

Indirectly, this may reduce the urge to migrate to cities since a source of income becomes available in the provinces.

Similarly, it will open doors to discussions on how people should be stewards of the environment, which provides their basic raw materials.

In 2009, the United Nations Environment Program executive director, Achim Steiner, expressed the need to ban plastic bags, highlighting the seriousness of plastic pollution and the urgency of taking action against the material.

“Single-use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere,” Steiner says.

“There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them anymore, anywhere,” he adds.

Trillion bags

Every year, around 500 billion to a trillion plastic bags are used worldwide, with over one million bags used every minute.

Plastic pollution from Asia, the Pacific and North America is sucked into the North Pacific Gyre, an area between Hawaii and the United States mainland.

Food chain

The pollution mingles with sea life, choking and ensnaring marine wildlife and disturbing every level of the food chain.

Now estimated to be twice the size of Texas, 80 percent of the plastic debris come directly from land. Necropsies have showed that many marine creatures had stomachs full of plastic trash that caused their deaths.

Plastic bags and plastic fragments can cause blockage of digestive or intestinal tracts of marine creatures resulting in more than 100,000 deaths of seabirds, turtles and mammals annually.

Plastic litter in the countryside can be eaten by grazing domestic and wild animals and can eventually enter the food chain.

Toxic

Many plastic items contain toxic chemicals such as biocides and plasticizers that could be released if the items break down or are eaten. Many chemical additives to plastic goods have negative effects on the environment and human health, such as the following:

Direct toxicity, as in the cases of lead, cadmium and mercury

Carcinogens, as in the case of diethylhexyl phthalate, a plasticizer used to make PVC pliable

Endocrine disruption, which can lead to cancer, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental problems in children.

On the other hand, polystyrene, the main component of Styrofoam, can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and can cause dizziness and unconsciousness. It migrates into food and is stored in body fat. It can cause lymphatic and hematopoietic cancer. Styrofoams, like plastic bags, are nonbiodegradable.

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