Justice and a plastics-free Philippines
The plastic pollution crisis exhibits clear interdependence between the environment, people’s well-being, and sustainable development. To properly view this issue through the lens of environmental justice, the implications on poverty alleviation, good health and well-being, reducing inequalities, climate action, and protection of biodiversity and ecosystems must be accounted for when developing solutions.
From a legal and policy perspective, achieving justice is centered on three main fronts. The first one involves the enactment of a law phasing out single-use plastics (SUPs), which is currently being deliberated in the Philippine Congress. Clear targets and timelines for the phaseout of sachets, plastic bags, plastic bottles, and other items must be presented within a just transition strategy that does not significantly harm the livelihoods of low and middle-income workers within the plastic industry.
The notion of a “just transition” does not only apply to SUP producers and importers; it applies just as importantly to Filipino consumers. Protecting their well-being goes beyond access to affordable products to meet their daily needs. It includes their right to know the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the products they consume, the ability to make their own choices for sustainable living, and their right to meaningfully participate in decision-making processes involving such transition.
The second front is strengthening the implementation of the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, or Republic Act No. 9003. Addressing the plastics crisis is impossible without dealing with the prevailing issues in the waste management system. Measures such as reducing and avoiding unnecessary product use, more efficient waste disposal, and strengthening recycling and recovery programs are necessary to deal with the severity of this issue.
While more local governments are passing ordinances banning or regulating SUPs, many of them lack institutional readiness and the required infrastructures for effective waste management. As such, national government agencies must allot the necessary funding and technical support for local governments to implement programs related to addressing plastic pollution, such as materials recovery facilities and waste collection services. They may form partnerships with businesses and civil society groups to enable more localities to actively engage in the implementation of RA 9003.
Another major avenue for action involves filing lawsuits against plastic producers to advance actions against further pollution. A precedent has been set for this course of action in the Philippines, as the Commission on Human Rights conducted the world’s first investigation into the responsibility of corporations in the climate crisis. The preliminary findings announced in 2019 indicated that 47 investor-owned fossil fuel companies could be held morally liable for human rights harms arising from business practices that aggravate climate change.
Businesses have a responsibility to ensure their products and operations do not impinge on the rights of people, and by adopting upstream solutions to the plastic crisis they can reduce their impact. Despite sustainability and climate commitments, corporations are failing to tackle the issue from the point it becomes problematic—production. Scrutinizing the life cycle of plastics will reveal the various harms it can create for communities, vulnerable groups, and ecosystems. Without concrete plans to decrease or eliminate the production of SUPs and implement proven reuse systems, the surge in plastic pollution and its related detriments will persist.
An understanding of environmental justice and education on the full life cycle of plastics is essential. It will not only enable communities to recognize and address injustices, but also allow them to identify false solutions such as incineration, co-processing, and chemical recycling. This places them in a better position to protect their health and our environment. As well-versed and empowered individuals, people can have an active and impactful participation in responding to the plastic pollution crisis.
John Leo Algo is the deputy executive director of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a citizen journalist. Marian Ledesma is a zero waste campaigner in Greenpeace Philippines.
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