Thinking green in government
It’s lunch time and I am in a carinderia where meals are served in Styrofoam with plastic cutlery. The fast service rivals that of fast food outlets due to the convenience offered by the takeaway packaging. This has been the norm in carinderias since the pandemic hit, but behind this convenience at the moment, did we imagine the inconvenience it would bring in the long-term?
Plastic pollution has become a major environmental problem, with the increasing production of disposable plastic products overwhelming our capacity to dispose them. The COVID-19 crisis has led to a surge in the use of disposable face masks and food takeaway packaging, and the environmental crisis is expected to worsen as the world shifts to the new normal and economic activities resume, since we are producing twice as much plastic waste as two decades ago.
A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that only 9 percent of 6.3 billion tons of plastic is recycled, with the majority ending up in landfills, are incinerated, or leaking into our surroundings. Incineration means profit for companies burning plastics into energy. However, this process of breaking down plastic releases chemicals that pollute our surroundings and cause health problems.
We’ve been taught that recycling is part of the solution, that we are part of this solution. So, what can we do?
Sustainable Development Goal No. 12 emphasizes responsible and sustainable consumption and production. Then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo established a green procurement program under Executive Order No. 301, which integrates green practices into the long-established government procurement process through Republic Act No. 9184. This emphasizes the technical specifications of goods and services that are “environmental friendly” and which suppliers must comply with. While meant to promote the culture of making environmentally informed decisions in government agencies, the executive order is applicable only to the executive branch of government. With the government considered a major player in the market because its purchasing power accounts for 20 percent of gross domestic product, it can and must take on a leading role in converting the existing market into a green market.
The House took one such initiative in House Bill No. 6468, which was on its second reading in December 2022. Otherwise known as the Green Public Procurement (GPP) Act, its aim was to give green procurement a more holistic character by making it a practice in all branches of government.
While waiting for that bill to become law, concerned officials and agencies might consider the following: First, align the proposed bill to already existing initiatives, such as the Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) Resolution No. 15-2013 that started integrating a GPP approach in the procurement process; the 2017 Philippine Green Public Procurement Roadmap adopted by the GPPB that had identified green common-use supplies and equipment (CSEs) and non-CSEs, and the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028.
Next, it is suggested that the green technical specifications already identified by the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) be integrated into the 2016 revised implementing rules and regulations of RA 9184 and into the public bidding documents for reference among procuring entities. Third, why not tap local resource institutes in researching environmentally friendly packaging and other best practices, as well as conduct studies to assess the impact and effectiveness of the GPP and to allocate funds for their research and publications?
Fourth, conduct an extensive market study on the prices and other important details of goods and services, not only for CSEs being posted in the PS-DBM website, but also for non-CSEs to be posted on the GPPB website for ready reference by procuring entities. Fifth, encourage the community through local government units and civil society organizations (CSOs) to mass produce natural packaging, such as those using abaca and banana fibers, to be purchased by suppliers.
Another suggestion is to give semi-annual recognition or awards to consistently compliant suppliers that use green technical specifications. While there is already an existing monitoring mechanism of the GPPB through the Agency Procurement Compliance and Performance Indicators System, there is a need to strengthen monitoring by tapping third-party verifiers. Lastly, regular fora and capacity building activities should be conducted to promote the GPP, with suppliers, CSOs, and other stakeholder partners invited. Having these livestreamed means further reach and easier public access.
A single person thinking and practicing green may seem like scratching only the surface now, but imagine what a whole-of-society approach can do for the Earth’s entire surface. As I threw away the packaging of my lunch, I promised myself that tomorrow, I will bring my own reusable and washable lunch box. It may be inconvenient at the moment, but think of what it can achieve in the long run!
Jeslen B. Tesoro is a published author of the poetry book “Unclipped Wings and Paper Planes,” and is currently working in the Department of the Interior and Local Government Region 1.