Attention Sec. Cimatu: Ban single-use, thin-film plastics

February 17, 2019

Last Saturday night, at 6:05 p.m., Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu and I  had a talk over the phone. He said he just gave a speech in a gathering at the Philippine Military Academy where he also graduated, as a member of Batch 1970.

We first discussed the declining number of pine trees in Baguio City which I wrote about in this column the other Monday and which he also included in his speech. So much of the  fragrant trees which had been a part of his cadet life has been decimated, he said.

I then raised the issue of single-use, thin-film plastics, and other non-environmentally acceptable products (NEAP) almost covering  Philippine bodies of water including Manila Bay. The rehabilitation, I said, is most welcome, but if the manufacture of  NEAP continues, it may be almost impossible to sustain ongoing rehabilitation efforts.

For now, the seashore of Manila Bay looks clean. To the question of a TV reporter who interviewed a government official involved in the rehab efforts, the official said the garbage was hauled and dumped in certain “sanitary landfills” which are actually glorified garbage dumpsites.

Come rainy season, what had been hauled and dumped from the bay, will surely be back  in  Manila Bay, with a vengeance,through the creeks and esteros emptying into the bay.

Addressing the problem of solid waste, both the biodegradeable and non-biodegradeable, is by preventing waste in the first place; but since we cannot help but produce discards from so many of the things we use, then we should ecologically manage this through an Ecology Center System in every household, establishment, and the whole barangay. We have seen how this works successfully in our advocacy of this system in Barangays San Isidro and San Antonio, Parañaque City. Back in 2004, we first introduced it in Barangay Tuktukan, Guiguinto, Bulacan. The system works to this day  in Tuktukan and in other areas where we also introduced this, mostly in farming communities in Bulacan and six barangays in Marawi City and one in Iligan City.

Biodegradable waste makes up almost 60 % of the waste output. Composting will greatly solve the problem (Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (Art 1. Sec 2-b, Sec. 17 e and g).  It will also do a lot more, by producing organic fertilizer which will lead on to so many other benefits.

At the same time, I told the good secretary, it is time to ban  the non-environmentally acceptable products (RA 9003, Article 4, Section 29). Cimatu replied that they did the plastic clean-up in the Boracay rehabilition campaign.

Our country ranks as the third worst plastic polluter in the oceans of the world, according to several environmental organizations. We are deluged with all sorts of consumer products wrapped in NEAP while we could tap so many natural sources, mostly plants, which we could use for packaging: bamboo, coconut, rattan, buri, and so many more alternatives for a nationwide practice of balik-basket, balik-bayong. Eco-bags are now gaining popularity; it is not as difficult now to mandate their use.

The Task Force Manila Bay Rehabilitation Program, particularly its members from Departments of Environment and Natural Resources and the Interior and Local Government,  should immediately and decisively address these urgent issues, such as by pushing for the banning of single-use, thin-film plastics by the local governments.  As I stated above, this is provided for in RA 9003 which was passed back in 2001. It is now 2019.

The battlecry of people’s organizations---Ayaw ko ng plastik! (bangonkalikasan