That, according to a global study, there’s enough plastic waste to bury Manhattan in New York under more than 3.2 kilometers of trash is a frightening prospect. But in fact the plastics nightmare has long been hammered home to Filipinos by the fierce flooding that occurs after a downpour, often caused, if not by the reality of climate change, by plastic wastes that have found their way into the sewerage system and basically done havoc to it.
The study, reported in the journal Science Advances, highlighted how much plastic humans now use from birth to death. Of a whopping total of 9.1 billion tons of plastic ever made, almost 7 billion tons are discarded, with only 9 percent of that recycled and 12 percent incinerated.
Unfortunately, that still leaves 5.5 billion tons to be accounted for. This waste, found in both land and sea, is harmful to biological life and doesn’t degrade. In fact, the lead author, industrial ecologist Roland Geyer, says: “All the plastics that we made since 1950 are still with us.” Indeed, he says, “we are really heading toward a plastic planet.”
But despite constant warning and chiding, Filipinos remain lousy in the proper disposition of waste, plastic or otherwise. Filipinos have a long way to go to make recycling and waste segregation, even just not littering, second nature. To be convinced of that truth, one only has to consider the usual aftermath of big public gatherings.
Case in point: that annual spectacle in January, the procession of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila, where millions of devotees make a staggering show of faith. The devotion is a sight to behold, as is the volume of plastic waste—water bottles, food wrappings, bags, etc.—left when the hordes had gone.
This year, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority collected a total of 202 tons, or 34 truckloads, of such waste in the post-procession cleanup operation. The irony is that it’s actually an improvement: The MMDA collected eight more tons in 2016.
A numerical improvement, sure, but a miniscule drop in the cleanup bucket. As has been repeated in this space, Filipinos should express their faith in both mindfulness and cleanliness. Those who come to worship should also care enough to know to properly dispose of their rubbish (there were many designated garbage cans all along the procession route and around the Quirino Grandstand).
What does it say about our faith when we show prayerfulness but can’t deposit used plastic bags in the right place?
For the next Black Nazarene procession, the MMDA is considering permanently restricting the activities and limiting the presence of ambulant vendors along the route. This is a welcome step,
one among several that have been undertaken in the ongoing fight against waste, in the Metro and elsewhere.
In Baguio, an ordinance now bans the sale and use of plastic bags and styrofoam containers in the city, including in malls, restaurants, markets and sari-sari stores.
In Quezon City, an ordinance requires vendors and retailers to collect P2 for every plastic bag given to customers at the point of sale — what is called the “plastic recovery system fee.”
Caloocan is one of several cities and municipalities banning all business establishments from using nonbiodegradable plastic bags and styrofoam containers and requiring them to use labeled biodegradable bags.
Other cities with such programs are Las Piñas, Makati, Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa and Pasay.
These are important developments, programs and ordinances that should help eliminate the use of nonbiodegradable materials in packaging and curb Filipinos’ tendency to throw plastic waste where and when they feel like it. It should become a new, healthy habit for everyone.
In the United States, grocery shoppers used to be asked: Paper or plastic? Now they are given the option to forego such packaging completely, because imagine the trees felled in the production of paper bags and such. Best practices in the world should be available to all Filipinos as well.
On top of other warnings to reckless, feckless humankind, the idea of a plastic planet makes for an apocalyptic nightmare. This is how the world can end for us and our fellow creatures on land and at sea if we do nothing about it.
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