A global plastic treaty will benefit PH
One hundred seventy-five nations agreed to end plastic pollution and develop a global legally binding instrument that will address the full life cycle of plastic in a historic declaration during the recent fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) from Feb. 28 to March 2, 2022. Nations agreed to start immediately the drafting of a global policy instrument that will be approved by 2024. The UNEA validated the fact that plastic has a far-reaching environmental impact across its life cycle—from resource extraction, production, distribution, and disposal.
Plastic is made of petroleum and chemical additives that can harm our climate and threaten our health. If plastic was a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter and the fastest source of industrial greenhouse gas emissions. According to studies, certain chemical additives in plastic can leach out into food and beverages and contaminate our bodies such as bisphenols, nonylphenols, heavy metals, phthalates, flame retardants, and perfluorinated chemicals. Exposure to these contributes to damaged immune and reproductive systems, impaired intellectual functions, developmental delays, and cancers.
Among the other decisions passed by UNEA were: the resolution to commence discussions to create a science policy panel on chemicals, waste, and pollution prevention; the resolution renewing the special program to extend financial support to developing countries’ initiatives contributing to the sound management of chemicals and waste; and the resolution calling for a new report on the state of science on endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs. These emphasize the need for science-based policies and for toxic-free and nature-based solutions to end pollution from chemicals, plastics, and wastes.
Plastic pollution has become a global crisis, reducing the capacity of ecosystems to mitigate climate change impacts. Plastic that ends up in waterways is also a great contributor to flooding and urban blight.
Curbing plastic production and use will help many climate-vulnerable countries like the Philippines, which has been tagged as the third-largest ocean polluter in the world, and Pasig River as one of the top sources of plastic leakage to the ocean. This despite our country having robust environmental laws such as Republic Act No. 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act and RA 9275 or the Philippine Clean Water Act.
RA 9003 mandates the National Solid Waste Management Commission, which is under the Office of the President, to release a list of nonenvironmentally acceptable products and packaging (NEAPP) whose manufacture, importation, distribution, sale, and use will be eventually prohibited. In February last year, the commission proposed to list plastic straws and stirrers as NEAPP but no final decision has yet been made. The mandate to list NEAPP has been sitting for more than two decades and the passage of the UNEA resolution proves that we cannot prolong the inaction further.
Despite almost 500 local governments enacting ordinances regulating single-use plastics, there is still no national policy and plans to complement these efforts. While the House of Representatives passed a bill banning certain SUPs last August, the Senate has yet to adopt one. Pending bills at both houses of the 18th Congress on extended producer responsibility (EPR) and waste-to-energy incineration have been criticized as quick fixes and false solutions that solely address plastic pollution downstream.
The UNEA resolution to end plastic pollution is just the beginning. Member states are set to deliberate and negotiate until they reach an agreement by the sixth session in 2024. The final text of the envisioned Global Plastic Treaty, we believe, should adequately address the full life cycle of plastics, including their climate, health, chemical, and economic impacts, integrate the voices and experiences of communities including waste workers and waste pickers, provide accessible and transparent data on plastic production, eliminate toxic chemical additives, enforce strong EPR with clear upstream target, provide clear language against false solutions such as incineration and chemical recycling, among others.
The treaty, we hope, will contain strong commitments and time-bound targets, including holding polluters accountable, ensuring just transition for affected workers, and promoting ecological alternatives toward a vibrant reuse, toxic-free economy. Having a legally binding agreement and definition of nature-based solutions are crucial in assessing and harmonizing the efforts of governments, businesses, and citizens to end the plastic crisis.
Coleen Salamat is the plastic solutions campaigner of EcoWaste Coalition, a public interest and advocacy network promoting sustainable solutions to waste, chemical, and climate change issues.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.